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Surgeon General warns of social media's negative impact on kids' mental health

Social media can have a negative impact on kids

The United States Surgeon General has issued a public advisory saying that social media harms the mental health of children, and is urging companies to give more than lip service to age minimums and other protections.

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the US Surgeon General, released the advisory on Thursday and shares statistics. The increased utilization of social media is a primary factor leading to depression, anxiety, and various other challenges among teenagers in the country.

For example, up to 95% of young people aged 13-17 report using a social media platform. Nearly two-thirds of teenagers report using social media daily, and one-third report using social media "almost constantly."

The nature of children and adolescents' social media usage and the content they encounter present significant concerns regarding mental health. Those who spend more than three hours per day on social media face twice the likelihood of developing mental health issues, such as experiencing symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

A recent survey indicates that teenagers dedicate an average of 3.5 hours daily to social media. However, when questioned about the influence of social media on their body image, 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 expressed that it has a negative impact, making them feel worse.

Additionally, despite the typical minimum age requirement of 13 set by social media platforms in the United States, approximately 40% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 engage with social media.

The advisory notes that there is currently insufficient evidence to conclude whether social media is adequately safe for children and adolescents. It also emphasizes the importance of policymakers and social media companies alongside parents in managing the social media usage of children and adolescents.

"Policymakers need to step up and help ensure that we have strong safety standards, to help protect our kids from exposure to harmful content, and to also protect them from excessive use," Murthy said. That includes enforcing age minimums.

The guidance suggests that companies should develop improved safeguards to protect teenagers and reconsider features that may encourage prolonged online engagement among children.