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US Surgeon General warns social media may harm children and teens

Scripps News talks to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy about how social media poses a risk to kids' and teens' mental health.
US Surgeon General warns social media may harm children and teens
Posted at 5:59 PM, May 24, 2023

A new warning from the U.S. Surgeon General has sparked a lot of discussion.

Dr. Vivek Murthy says too much time on the internet has negative impacts on kids' and teens' mental health, including depression and anxiety, and is calling for tech companies and lawmakers to take "immediate action" to protect their health.

"What we found were two critical things. One is that there is not enough evidence to reassure us that social media use is in fact sufficiently safe for kids," Murthy told Scripps News. "The second thing that we found is that there's growing evidence that social media use is associated with harms for some of our kids."

According to Murthy, teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and nearly half of adolescents using social media say that their use of social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.

"It is clear to me that we need to do more to make social media platforms safer for our children. We need to have safety standards similar to what we have for cars, medications, and other products our kids use," said Murthy.

Murthy says that while human beings have been comparing themselves to other people for decades, the volume at which such comparisons take place over social media in the form of travel posts, body image posts, and just life in general has intensified the problem in unprecedented numbers, which older generations didn’t have to deal with.

Murthy says it is also important that lawmakers push for data transparency from tech companies.

"It worried me when I saw the data say that a third of adolescents say they are staying up until midnight or later on weekdays on their phones, and much of that screen time is social media use. So, the bottom line is that we want kids to benefit from and use technology, but we need to minimize the harms," said Murthy. "Which is why I'm pushing for policymakers and tech companies to act quickly."

On Tuesday, the  Biden administration announced new steps to protect the privacy, safety and mental health of children online.

The Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Commerce Department, will start a task force that looks closely at how online platforms affect kids' mental health.

SEE MORE: TikTok adds a new feature to support mental well-being

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