The report by Dr. Vivek Murthy cited a “profound risk of harm” to adolescent mental health and urged families to set limits and governments to set tougher standards for use.
The nation’s top health official issued an extraordinary public warning on Tuesday about the risks of social media to young people, urging a push to fully understand the possible “harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
In a 19-page advisory, the United States surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, noted that the effects of social media on adolescent mental health were not fully understood, and that social media can be beneficial to some users. Nonetheless, he wrote, “There are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
The report included practical recommendations to help families guide children’s social media use. It recommended that families keep mealtimes and in-person gatherings free of devices to help build social bonds and promote conversation. It suggested creating a “family media plan” to set expectations for social media use, including boundaries around content and keeping personal information private.
Dr. Murthy also called on tech companies to enforce minimum age limits and to create default settings for children with high safety and privacy standards. And he urged the government to create age-appropriate health and safety standards for technology platforms.
The report, effectively elevating long-simmering concerns around social media in the national conversation, came as state and federal lawmakers, many of them raised in an era when social media barely existed or didn’t exist at all, have been struggling with how to set limits on its use.
Surgeon General Warns of Social Media Risks
- A Call for Limits: The nation’s top health official issued an extraordinary public warning about the risks that social media may pose to young people’s mental health and well-being.
- A Net Benefit for Some: Despite the warning, researchers and teenagers say that social media can be a “lifeline” providing a sense of identity and belonging for L.G.B.T.Q. youth.
- Reaction in N.Y.C.: Young New Yorkers generally agreed with the surgeon general’s assessment. But some also said that attempts to restrict young people’s access were not welcome.
Montana’s governor recently signed a bill banning TikTok from operating in the state, prompting the Chinese-owned app to file a lawsuit and young TikTok users to lament what one called a “kick in the face.” In March, Utah became the first state to prohibit 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.
Survey results from Pew Research have found that up to 95 percent of teens reported using at least one social media platform, while more than one-third said they used social media “almost constantly.” 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.