(The Hill) — Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is issuing an advisory that social media use may be harmful to the mental health of young people, citing growing evidence that online content is hurting the development of the nation’s youth.
“I’m issuing this advisory because we’re in the middle of a youth mental health crisis, and I’m concerned that social media is contributing to the harms that kids are experiencing,” Murthy told The Hill.
Murthy specifically pointed to the possibility of a link between time spent on social media and depression and anxiety.
He cited one 2019 study that found adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 who spent more than three hours on social media daily had double the risk of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Teenagers on average spend 3 1/2 hours on social media every day, according to data cited in the advisory. The advisory acknowledged that social media can provide some benefits to young people. It noted that a majority of young girls of color say they regularly see “positive and identity-affirming content” online.
Social media also provides avenues for connection for people who may otherwise feel isolated, such as people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community. The surgeon general stressed that the onus for managing healthy social media use was not entirely on parents.
“It’s an unreasonable expectation because prior generations never had to experience and manage the rapidly evolving technology that fundamentally changed how kids thought about themselves, how they thought about their friendships and how they saw the world,” said Murthy.
He said that companies must play a part in ensuring social media does not harm kids. Murthy called on higher transparency from tech companies, noting that independent researchers have told his office that tech giants have not provided the full data needed to make a complete assessment of the risk for harm.
Murthy has routinely spoken about the potential harm social media use has on children. Earlier this year, Murthy said on CNN that he believed 13 was too young for children to be on social media, an age when most platforms allow people to join.
In an advisory issued in 2021, Murthy noted how the COVID-19 pandemic “rapidly accelerated” how much of people’s lives play out on social media. His advisory at the time emphasized that social media companies are concerned with maximizing engagement and not “safeguarding users’ health.”
As far as the federal government’s role in improving how social media use impacts children, Murthy said establishing “age-appropriate health and safety standards” could be one such avenue, pointing out that standards are established for many products that children use like car seats and toys.
Murthy recommended that parents and caretakers establish a family media plan that lays out expectations regarding social media use, create tech-free zones, model responsible online behavior themselves and work with other parents to establish shared norms and practices.
The advisory encouraged children to reach out for help if social media is negatively affecting them, limit the use of electronics at least an hour before bed and to be selective about what personal information they share online.
Children are also advised to be protective of themselves by tracking how much time they spend online; blocking unwanted contacts and content, and avoiding keeping online harassment a secret.