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US Surgeon General Issues Urgent Advisory on the Profound Risks of Child Social Media Use

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In a recent advisory, the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, highlighted the alarming dangers posed by social media use among children and teenagers. Murthy has called for urgent action from tech companies, policymakers, and parents to safeguard the mental health and well-being of young individuals. With limited independent research on the safety of social media for children and adolescents, the surgeon general emphasizes the need for precautionary measures.

The advisory, part of an ongoing investigation into youth mental health, sheds light on the pervasive use of social media among young people. Shockingly, up to 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds in the United States are active users, with over a third stating they are engaged with social media platforms “almost constantly.” Despite age restrictions on most sites, the report reveals that nearly 40% of eight- to 12-year-olds regularly access social media.

The surgeon general’s warning aligns with the White House’s acknowledgment of an “unprecedented youth mental health crisis” in the country. Depression and anxiety rates among children and adolescents have surged by almost 30% in recent years, with social media identified as a contributing factor. To address these concerns, the White House plans to establish a task force focused on online health and safety for children, aiming to identify potential harms and develop strategies for tech companies.

Growing concerns about the impact of online apps on children have gained prominence, particularly since the revelations by whistleblower Frances Haugen. Haugen exposed that Facebook and Instagram knowingly directed young users toward harmful content, including material promoting eating disorders, and targeted children under 13. Internal studies by Meta, Facebook’s parent company, indicated that Instagram exacerbated suicidal thoughts in 14% of teenage girls and intensified eating disorders in 17% of them.

Acknowledging the efforts of technology companies to improve platform safety, Murthy contends that such measures are insufficient. The advisory emphasizes the vulnerability of individuals aged 10 to 19, as adolescence is a critical period for brain development and the formation of self-worth. It also highlights how social media use negatively affects life satisfaction, particularly among girls aged 11 to 13 and boys aged 14 to 15.

While social media platforms offer positive benefits, such as community and connection, the risks currently overshadow these advantages. A long-term study revealed that adolescents who spend over three hours a day on social media face twice the risk of mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety. Excessive use can lead to compulsive behavior, sleep disturbances, and alterations in neurological development, potentially resulting in depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts.

Dr. Murthy calls on tech companies to prioritize the health and safety of young users when developing new products, urging them to be more transparent with the public. He also advises parents to establish boundaries on social media usage in their children’s lives, ensuring protected tech-free times and spaces.

The US Surgeon General’s advisory underscores the urgent need to address the profound risks associated with social media use among children and teenagers. With the youth mental health crisis on the rise, immediate action from tech companies, policymakers, and parents is crucial to protect the well-being of young individuals in the digital age.

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