US surgeon general issues major advisory on social media use and teens’ mental health

The advisory asks social media companies and lawmakers to help create change.

A new advisory from the U.S. surgeon general warns of an urgent public health issue regarding social media usage and youth mental health.

In the new advisory, released Tuesday, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy calls for more research to determine the extent of mental health impacts on young people, including the type of content generating the most harm, societal factors that could protect youth and ways in which social media can be beneficial.

“To date the burden of protecting youth has fallen predominantly on children, adolescents and their families,” Murthy writes. “The entire burden of mitigating the risk of harm of social media cannot be placed on the shoulders of children and parents.”

Murthy claims in the advisory that technology companies’ “lack of transparency” has created “barriers to understanding the full scope and scale of the impact of social media on mental health and well-being.”

He calls on social media companies to prioritize safety and privacy in their product designs and ensure minimum age requirements are enforced.

PHOTO: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks during the United States Conference of Mayors 91st Winter Meeting, Jan. 18, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks during the United States Conference of Mayors 91st Winter Meeting, Jan. 18, 2023, in Washington, D.C.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Most social media platforms have a minimum user age of 13, which Murthy says he believes is “too early” for kids to be on social media, describing the age as a “time when kids are developing their identity, their sense of self.”

Murthy says the ages of 10 to 19 are a sensitive time, when youth identities are forming, leaving them susceptible to social pressure and peer opinion.

The advisory also outlines how policymakers can enact change in three ways: creating policies limiting access to potentially harmful content, developing curricula about digital and media literacy in schools, and increasing funding for related research.

Murthy also calls on parents to model responsible social media behavior, in addition to the changes recommended for policymakers and social media companies.

He says parents should create family media plans, establish tech-free zones and encourage children to foster in-person friendships.

The advisory comes just weeks after the American Psychological Association issued sweeping recommendations intended to help teenagers use social media safely.

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