Social Media Can Be a ‘Profound Risk’ to Youth, Surgeon General Warns

·2-min read

“Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment,” the advisory from Dr. Vivek Murthy stated

<p>AP Photo/Susan Walsh</p>

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has issued a landmark advisory regarding the impact of social media, and says that it can “have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”

In the 19-page advisory released on Tuesday, the nation’s top doctor offered ample data to back the assertion, in what the report calls a “public statement that calls the American people’s attention to an urgent public health issue and provides recommendations for how it should be addressed.”

“Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment,” the advisory stated.

It continued, “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.”

According to the advisory, up to 95% of youth ages 13–17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly.” Also, in the U.S., nearly 40% of children ages 8–12 use social media.

In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Murthy shared that children are particularly impacted by too much exposure to apps such as TikTok and Instagram.

“They’re in a different phase of development, and they’re in a critical phase of brain development,” he told the newspaper.

The report also encouraged parents and others to monitor their children’s social media use and to think about a “family media plan,” where screen-time expectations could be set.

Related: Montana Governor Approves Statewide TikTok Ban — the First of Its Kind in the U.S.

Social media exposure is linked to conditions including eating disorders, body dysmorphia and low self-esteem, per the report, with some evidence also pointing to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The report comes on the heels of efforts to limit the apps.

Last week, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte approved a statewide TikTok ban, making Montana the first state to attempt such a broad rejection of the popular social media platform.

After signing the legislation — which passed in both the state House and Senate this spring — Gianforte tweeted, "To protect Montanans' personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana."

The legislation cited both security concerns and argued that the platform "directs minors to engage in dangerous activities" in order to generate content, such as "throwing objects at moving automobiles, taking excessive amounts of medication," and "licking doorknobs and toilet seats to place oneself at risk of contracting coronavirus."

As for the Surgeon General’s advisory, it did not go as far to condemn social media use for young adults and children, but it concluded:  “We do not yet have enough evidence to determine if social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents.”

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