Surgeon General: Why social media is harming young people’s mental health

OOn May 23, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a warning about the impact social media is having on young people’s mental health.

“I issued this notice because this is an urgent crisis,” Murthy told TIME. “We haven’t made enough progress in trying to maximize the benefits of social media for children and minimize the harm. As such, I am concerned about the mental health and well-being of our children.”

Speaking to TIME, Murthy discusses how parents, policymakers, researchers and tech companies can and should work together to make social media platforms safer for kids. (This interview has been abridged and edited for clarity.)

ZEIT: Why do you think the impact of social media on young people is so worrying?

Since becoming a surgeon general, my primary focus has been on mental health and well-being, which I believe is the defining public health crisis of our time.

And youth is a cause for concern. As I’ve traveled across the country speaking to families about mental health issues, my parents’ #1 question centered on social media: “Is social media safe for my kids?” And many kids share the same concerns. In interviews I’ve had with middle school, senior, and college students, they often proactively bring up social media.

Continue reading: Here’s how to start teaching your kids about social media

The three things they told me most often are: 1. That social media often made them feel worse; 2. That it made them feel worse about their friendships; and 3. That they could not get away from it. One student told me, “During the day I feel great, then I pull out my phone and I go on social media and I see all these people doing things without me or achieving incredible things — having incredible bodies and living incredible lives — and all of a sudden.” I feel worse.” It’s a common theme.

The reason I put out this advice is to answer the question that so many parents have asked me about social media.

What conclusions does your report on social media and young people’s mental health come to?

After compiling the available data, which included reviewing publicly available research and looking at published data and interviewing independent experts, we conclude that, first, there is not enough data to say that social media platforms are safe for children. and second, that there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm.

Do policymakers and tech companies have a responsibility to ensure their platforms are safe for children?

I see this as 100% the responsibility of policy makers and technology companies. Any company that makes a product consumed by children has a fundamental responsibility to make sure it’s safe for children – that it’s helping them, not harming them.

We do not ask parents to check the brakes of cars children ride in or the ingredients of medicines children take, nor do we ask them to chemically analyze the color of children’s toys to ensure that they are safe are sure . We set and enforce standards – which is usually done by the government – ​​to ensure manufacturers comply.

That’s what’s missing here. We cannot allow tech companies to set their own standards; We do not do this in any other area that involves the well-being of children. But that’s mostly what’s happened in the last 20 years.

What specific standards can policymakers set for children’s use of social media?

We must strengthen the protection of children through safety standards, especially by protecting children from harmful content. Too many children are exposed to sexual and violent content, harassment and abuse online. That should not happen.

We can make up the safety standards that apply to other children’s products and should include standards around age. While many platforms are typically 13 years old to allow users to join, we should keep two things in mind. First, it’s terribly enforced, with 40% of 8-12 year olds using social media. Second, 13 [years old] did not come from a health assessment examining the appropriate age for children to be on social media. It came from COPPA [Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule], a law that limited the age at which data could not be collected and shared. We need to understand at what age a child should start using these platforms.

Is there any data that sheds some light on the age at which children can safely start using social media?

That’s another thing that standards set by policymakers can do: They ensure tech companies share relevant data from their platforms. I hear constantly from researchers who don’t get full access to the data they need to fully understand the impact of platforms on children. As a parent myself, I don’t want to feel like I’m being robbed of information about the impact of the products my children use on their mental health and well-being.

Continue reading: For teens, keeping each other safe from social media is a team effort

Should standards also include restrictions on certain types of content for younger users?

Effective standards would protect children from harmful content. And these standards not only need to be set, they need to be enforced. It is important that parents and children sit around the same table and help shape how these standards are shaped.

These platforms are designed to maximize the time children spend on them. Among other things, new standards can help to minimize the features that lead to overuse, especially among younger children.

I admit that companies are trying to take steps to make platforms more secure, but it really isn’t enough. time is important Children only have one childhood and every day, every month, every year is important for a child’s life and development.

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