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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Surgeon General: Social media is hazardous for your kids' health

Social media is endangering the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents, warns Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a 19-page advisory.


Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Families should limit their children's social media use, Dr. Murthy recommended. He also "called on tech companies to enforce minimum age limits" and "the government to create age-appropriate health and safety standards for technology platforms," report Matt Richtel, Catherine Pearson and Michael Levenson in the New York Times. " Montana recently banned TikTok, prompting a lawsuit from the Chinese-owned app, they report. In March, Utah prohibited social media services from allowing users under 18 to have accounts without the explicit consent of a parent or guardian. "That law could dramatically curtail young people’s access to apps like Instagram and Facebook." Thirty-five percent of teenagers said they used social media "almost constantly" in a Pew Research survey. Most visit YouTube and TikTok at least daily. (Facebook is for us oldsters now.)


"As social media use has risen, so have self-reports and clinical diagnoses among adolescents of anxiety and depression, along with emergency room visits for self-harm and suicidal ideation," the Times notes. The surgeon general's advisory warned of “extreme, inappropriate and harmful content” that “can normalize” self-harm, eating disorders and other self-destructive behavior. “In early adolescence, when identities and sense of self-worth are forming, brain development is especially susceptible to social pressures, peer opinions and peer comparison,” the advisory added. Furthermore, technology companies use tactics that encourage addictive-like behaviors, the advisory charges.


For LGBTQ teens, social media is a "safe space" for exploring their identity and finding a community, writes Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times.


"The mental health of L.G.B.T.Q. teens is worse than that of straight teens," but "it can be improved by being online," said Shelley L. Craig, a University of Toronto researcher.


A number of commenters are dubious.


"So the group of kids with the most mental health issues are benefiting from the thing the surgeon general just said (and anyone with common sense knew) is bad for youth mental health?," writes Craig. "These social media circles create bubbles, and what feels like a beneficial community can quickly morph into something far more sinister."


"Are gender-questioning kids finding a 'home' on social media, or is social media influencing them to think they are trans?" asks G.

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