The US public health director has warned that there is insufficient evidence to show that social networks are safe for young people and is calling on technology companies, parents and carers to “take urgent steps to protect children”. have been
Almost all youth use social media but do not fully understand its true impact on mental health, Dr. Vivek Murthy urged tech companies to share data, increase their transparency and consider users’ health and well-being while designing their products. Called for prioritizing safety.
“I agree that tech companies have taken steps to try to make their platforms healthier and more secure, but it’s not enough,” Murthy told The Associated Press in an interview. “Just look at the age requirements: The networks themselves have said that 13 is the age at which people can start using their platforms. However, 40% of kids between the ages of 8 and 12 are on the social network. If you How will it actually be implementing its policies?
To comply with US federal regulations, social media companies already ban children under the age of 13 from registering on their platforms, but children with and without parental consent can easily circumvent the ban. has been shown to do.
Other steps that social media has taken to address children’s mental health concerns can also be easily sidelined. For example, TikTok recently introduced a default time limit of 60 minutes for users under the age of 18, but once the limit is reached, all it takes for a minor to continue using the platform is a passcode. can enter.
It is not that companies are unaware of the harm caused by their platforms. For example, Meta studied the effects of Instagram on the mental health of teens years ago and found that the peer pressure generated by the application focused on visual-generated mental health and body image problems. In some cases, it has led to eating disorders and suicidal thoughts in adolescents, especially females. An internal study noted that 13.5% of teen girls said Instagram increased suicidal thoughts and 17% said it made eating disorders worse.
The investigation was revealed in 2021 by Frances Haugen, who reported misconduct at her place of employment to authorities. After that, Meta tried to downplay its platform’s harmful effects on teens, but it suspended work on a children’s version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily aimed at 10- to 12-year-olds. Is.
“The bottom line is that we don’t have enough evidence to conclude that social media is really safe enough for our kids. It’s very important for parents to know,” says Murthy, who specializes in youth mental health crises. Traveling across the United States to speak with parents and youth about “The most common question I get from parents is whether social media is safe for their kids.”
In a report released Tuesday, Murthy wrote that lawmakers need to address the harms of social media in the same way they regulate car seats and baby formula, drugs and other products used by children. We do. He argues that parents – let alone children – simply cannot do it all.
“We’re asking parents to get a handle on a rapidly evolving technology that is fundamentally changing the way their children think about themselves, how they form friendships, how they experience the world. do and drive the way previous generations didn’t have,” says Murthy. “And we’re putting all of that on the parents’ shoulders, which isn’t fair.”
Although Murthy acknowledges that more research is needed, he says there is already plenty of evidence that social media can pose a “profound risk of harm” to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.
An important factor is the development of the brain in children. Adults can cope with the harmful effects of social media, but children and teens “are at a fundamentally different stage of brain development, where brain pathways, their social relationships, their self-esteem and identity are all developing,” Murthy says. “And in this case, they are more likely to be influenced by social cues, social pressure and social comparison, and those three things are heavily present on social media.”
In fact, according to a study cited in Surgeon Reports, frequent use of social media may be associated with “specific changes” in the developing brain and increased sensitivity to social rewards and punishments.
The mental health of children and adolescents can be profoundly affected depending on how much and how often they use social media, as well as whether they view excessive, inappropriate and harmful content.
And research shows they’re using them a lot. According to the Washington-based Pew Research Center, up to 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds say they use a social media platform, and more than a third say they use social media “almost constantly.”
A systematic review of 42 studies found “consistent associations between social media use and poor sleep quality, short sleep duration, sleep difficulties, and depression in young people”. On a typical weekday, nearly one in three teens report using screen media until midnight or later.
What they see on social media is also important. From the bombardment of unrealistic body images to a culture of “hypercomparison” to bullying, hate and abuse, Murthy says she worries that the effects on young people’s mental health are being reflected in “statistics mental health concerns that We’re watching” our country, which tells us that depression, anxiety, suicide, and loneliness are on the rise.
The Murthy-led report does not ask youth to completely stop using social media, as it has its benefits. Teens can find a community there and a place to express themselves. LGBTQ+ youth, in particular, have been shown to benefit from social media by connecting with peers, developing an identity, and finding social support.
“It may not be possible for every family to stop their child from using social media,” says Murthy. “But it can be really helpful to create boundaries around social media use in your child’s life, so that there are times and places that are protected, that are technology-free,” she adds.
Murthy has two children, ages 5 and 6, but like many parents, he’s already pondering his future on social media.
“For our kids we plan to delay their social network use until after middle school,” he says, referring to grades six through eight. “It’s not going to be easy, but we hope to find other parents and families we can partner with to make it a little easier, because we know there is strength in unity and sometimes— Sometimes it’s hard to change yourself.”