HomeHealthThe Surgeon General has warned that social media is harming children. ...

The Surgeon General has warned that social media is harming children. Should they be banned until they are older?

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Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images

What is going on

On Tuesday, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory calling for action to protect children from the potentially harmful effects of social media use on their mental health and well-being.

“We are in the midst of a national youth health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is a major driver of that crisis — one that we urgently need to address,” said Murthy.

While the opinion recognized social media as an effective learning tool for children that can create their own identities, provide support, keep them informed of current events and enable them to communicate and form social networks, it also pointed to numerous studies showing that social media use can be “excessive and problematic” for adolescents and is associated with depression in young people who spend several hours a day on platforms.

The advisory also says that about half of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 said social media makes them feel worse and “predicts that life satisfaction declines for certain developmental stages, including for girls aged 11-13 and boys 14-15 years old.” In addition, 64% of adolescents say that social media exposes them “often” or “sometimes” to hate-based content.

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One of the advisory’s recommendations to ensure a safe and healthy environment is that tech companies find better ways to adhere to age minimums thanks to these studies.

Now lawmakers in both the House and Senate are finding rare alignment, backing bills to put guardrails around social media use — such as raising the minimum age for social media to 16 years old — as America’s youth continue to grapple with the developing mental health crisis.

Why there is discussion

According to the advisory, about 95% of young people, ranging from 13 to 17 years old, use social media. More than a third admit to using social media “almost constantly”. As it stands, on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat, a potential user must be at least 13 years old to sign up for an account. For TikTok, children under the age of 13 can access the platform, but their user experience is limited.

But the advice points to studies showing that adolescents have a “highly sensitive period of brain development” between ages 10 and 19, when they take more risks and when an increased risk of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety begin to emerge. Studies show that using social media can also disrupt their sleep patterns, facilitate the spread of rumors and peer pressure, and paint an “unrealistic” picture of other people’s lives that they may be too young to sort out.

“This population is at particular risk because brain development in our children may make the effects of social media more significant and long-lasting,” Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, president and medical director of the Child Mind Institute, in a statement to Yahoo News. . “Technology is also changing the way families work today. We encourage parents and carers to communicate with their child regularly and provide resources to help them use social media safely and consciously.”

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Legislators like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., want to provide parents with legislation to “hit back” against Big Tech companies that try to “take advantage” of their children. But opponents worry that politicians are merely campaigning against an agenda that could potentially harm America’s youth by cutting off access to communities that support them.

What’s next

In February, Hawley introduced two sets of bills “to protect children online”. The first bill — the Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust, and Effective (MATURE) Act — sets a minimum age of 16 for all social media users, barring platforms from granting accounts to children who don’t meet that requirement . The second bill – the Federal Social Media Research Act – would invest in a study to examine the effects of social media on children over the age of 10 and produce a report on the potential harms of social media.

In the same month, R-Utah Representative Chris Stewart introduced the Social Media Child Protection Act, which would make it illegal for social media platforms to allow children under the age of 16 to access their sites.


We need to equip kids with “effective tools” to navigate social media, not restrict access

“Social media in itself is a tool for gathering information. General statements, such as those stating that children under the age of 14 should not have access to social media, are not effective tools for changing behaviour. We need to give our kids the tools they need to safely navigate the world, not prevent them from being exposed to it altogether. — Dr. Lama Bazzi, Fox News Digital

Children are still developing mentally at age 13

“Thirteen is too soon. … It’s a time when it’s really important for us to think carefully about how they feel about their self-worth and their relationships — and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children.” — Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to CNN

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It’s just politics as usual

“Tech moves so much faster than Congress moves. The purpose of this bill is for Senator Hawley to be able to say, “Look, this is what I’ve proposed to address this problem.” And then there is little action. It’s a way to start a conversation and it’s a way for him to campaign for this ideal that he has to be tough on social media companies.” — Daniel Desrochers, Kansas City Star Washington correspondent, to KCUR

Experts believe that there is a generation of children who are growing up too fast

“When we talk about teens in the early stages of adolescence, we are talking about a brain that is under construction. It’s not so much about how they’ll behave online, but whether they’re ready for what they’re about to encounter. Social media opens up a very mature world.” — David Anderson, senior director of the Child Mind Institute, to Wall Street Journal

The mental health crisis among young people extends beyond social media

“I think they use social media as a scapegoat. The mental health crisis – many factors play a role. Yes, social media has shone a light on that for some of these kids, but I don’t think blocking or making social media more difficult for kids is really going to have any effect on the mental health problem we have. — Chris Kunkle, a parent of three, to USA Today

There are age requirements for anything else that could potentially be harmful to children

“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we need car seats and seatbelts; we have fences around pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16 years. The damage to Generation Z from social media is undeniable – so why are there no protections in the digital world?” — Representative Chris Stewart, R-Utah, statement

Hawley’s bill is a veil on the anti-LGBTQ agenda

“Banning social media is not just for the good of children, but rather is an extension of the right-wing anti-transgender agenda already in place. Though Hawley mentions suicidality, depression and other mental illnesses in his legislation, he and other conservatives are nonetheless focused on the alleged transgender threats lurking in every corner of social media, plotting to emasculate your sons and androgenize your daughters . — Alexandra Kauffman, Emory Wheel

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