Surgeon general fires stark warning over effects of social media on kids

Washington DC - The top US health official on Tuesday issued a stark warning to parents, tech companies, and regulators, saying the evidence is growing that social media use may seriously harm children.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said evidence is growing that social media use may seriously harm children.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said evidence is growing that social media use may seriously harm children.  © Collage: 123RF/franckito & Mandel NGAN / AFP

In a lengthy advisory, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that while not without benefits, "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."

Social media use by young people in the US is nearly universal, with up to 95% of adolescents reporting using a social platform and more than a third saying they do so "almost constantly," according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Murthy's report said social media can help children and teens find a community to connect, but that it also contains "extreme, inappropriate, and harmful content," which can "normalize" self-harm and suicide.

Tattoo addict shows off bizarre squishy hand implants
Tattoos Tattoo addict shows off bizarre squishy hand implants

It can perpetuate body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and depression and expose children to online bullying while they are undergoing a critical stage in brain development, the report warned.

Appetite for social media regulation grows

TikTok has been in the crosshairs of authorities in the US.
TikTok has been in the crosshairs of authorities in the US.  © NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

Murthy called on policymakers to strengthen safety standards around social media and urged tech companies to responsibly assess the impact of their products on children and share data with researchers.

He also advised parents to establish tech-free zones at home in order to promote in-person communication, and to educate children by modelling healthy, responsible online behavior.

The report comes at a time when authorities across the US are searching for ways to regulate social media use, and curb its ill-effects on young people in particular.

Memorial Day Weekend: How to turn up in style for summer 2024
Lifestyle Memorial Day Weekend: How to turn up in style for summer 2024

Earlier this month, Montana became the first US state to ban the use of TikTok on its territory. The Chinese-owned video sharing giant is challenging the decision in court. And in March, Utah led the way on requiring social media sites to get parental consent for accounts used by minors.

"We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis – one that we must urgently address," Murthy said.

Cover photo: Collage: 123RF/franckito & Mandel NGAN / AFP

More on Health: