Surgeon General sounds alarm, again, on kids' social media use

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy just put out a serious public advisory about kids and teens using social media, voicing concerns over the significant risk it poses to their mental health and development. He's saying there's not enough data yet to tell if it's safe for them, and asserts that while social media has beneficial aspects, the potential dangers, especially for those spending over three hours a day on these platforms, are cause for alarm.


The country's foremost doctor said there's simply not enough data currently available to determine if social media is "sufficiently safe" for children and adolescents. Though Murthy acknowledged some of social media's benefits for young people, the advisory strikes a decidedly more urgent, cautionary tone than previous surgeon generals' reports on the technology.

The advisory says youth social media use is "nearly universal," with up to 95% of teenagers and 40% of kids between 8-12 on social networks, often in violation of companies' own age minimums of 13 years old. Children and teens are regularly exposed to extreme or harmful content on the apps which can take a toll on their mental and physical health. Those outcomes are far worse for kids who use the apps frequently. Young users who spend more than three hours per day on social media, the advisory note, face double the risk of experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression than those who use it less.

"Nearly every teenager in America uses social media, and yet we do not have enough evidence to conclude that it is sufficiently safe for them," the advisory says. "Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment."

He also warns that heavy use might lead to changes in the parts of the brain linked to emotions and impulse control. This could make them more sensitive to the ups and downs of social life online, leading to stuff like body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and lower self-esteem. He does say that social media can provide community and connection, especially for marginalized groups, but he's really pushing for everyone to take action and make these platforms safer for young users.