Surgeon General Issues Warning About Children

The U.S. Surgeon General has issued a new advisory that using social media platforms could cause harm to the mental health of youth in the country.

Vivek Murthy backed up his advisory by citing new evidence that is showing that the online content posted to these platforms is harming the overall development of American youth. As he told media outlet The Hill recently:

“I’m issuing this advisory because we’re in the middle of a youth mental health crisis, and I’m concerned that social media is contributing to the harms that kids are experiencing.”

Murthy specifically identified links that have been made between the amount of time someone spends on social media to the instances of anxiety and depression.

One such study, which was conducted in 2019, found that kids from 12 to 15 years of age who spent at least three hours on various social media platforms per day were at twice the risk to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The study also revealed that on average, teenagers spend 3.5 hours per day on social media channels. 

Murthy’s advisory did acknowledge that social media channels could provide benefits to youth in the country. Specifically, he said a majority of youth girls of color say they are able to regularly view content that is “positive and identity-affirming.

Other groups of people, such as members of the LGBTQ or people who have disabilities, can get great benefits from social media, as it allows them to connect with others instead of just feeling isolated.

That being said, Murthy stressed that it’s important that everyone use social media in a healthy way. He added that the onus on ensuring that happens for America’s youth doesn’t just fall on their parents.

As he explained:

“It’s an unreasonable expectation because prior generations never had to experience and manage the rapidly evolving technology that fundamentally changed how kids thought about themselves, how they thought about their friendships and how they saw the world.”

As such, Murthy said it’s incumbent on the social media companies themselves to play a role in making sure that online content isn’t harmful to kids. Tech companies could be more transparent, the Surgeon General said.

To that point, he added that assessments conducted by independent researchers are incomplete, because tech companies haven’t provided the full trove of data that’s needed to fully assess their level of risk.

Warning parents about the harmful effects of social media is not a new topic that Murthy is taking on. Just earlier in the year, he said that he believed 13 was too young an age for someone to have a social media account, yet that is the age when many platforms allow children to join.

Back in 2021, the Surgeon General also issued an advisory noting how the pandemic “rapidly accelerated” how much time people spend on social media every time.

That advisory also emphasized that the social media platforms themselves were more focused on maximizing engagement on their sites rather than “safeguarding users’ health.”