‘We’ve got to take a stand’: U.S. Surgeon General speaks about social media impact on kids

BOSTON — The nation’s top doctor says there is growing evidence that social media is having a harmful impact on the mental health of children and teens. It’s why he issued a strong advisory in May to sound the alarm.

“I looked at the evidence with my scientific team and what we concluded is that there isn’t enough evidence to say that it is safe for our kids. What we do see is that social media use is in fact associated with harms. It’s why we now see kids who are using social media more than three hours a day are double the risk for anxiety and depression,” said U.S. Surgeon General, Doctor Vivek Murthy. He says most kids are on social media about 3 and half hours a day.

In a one-on-one interview with Boston 25′s Kerry Kavanaugh, Doctor Murthy says most kids are on social media about three and half hours a day. The Pew Research Center says 95% of kids 13-17 describe using a social media platform almost constantly.

“It’s not just kids 13, 14 that I’m worried about. It’s the fact that 40% of kids eight through 12 are on social media. So whatever rules that platforms have put in place around age are certainly not being adequately enforced,” Murthy said.

Doctor Murthy says children are seeing content on social that can normalize dangerous behavior, including self-harm and eating disorders.

“It shouldn’t be acceptable that our kids are manipulated by platforms to spend more and more time at the expense of their sleep and their physical activity, their schoolwork, and their time with family,” Murthy said. “We’ve got to take a stand against those harmful practices.

The social media advisory amid the youth mental health crisis was the focus of a summit at Boston University’s School of Public Health with Murthy and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who’s long advocated for increased regulations on social media companies.

“It’s becoming clear that young people are being targeted for commercial gain for profit making by these social companies,” Markey said.

“So bottom line, are they doing enough right now to protect youth online,” Kavanaugh asked.

“They’re absolutely not doing enough,” Markey said. “In fact, if you were 13 or 14 or 15-year-old girl in the united states right now, you have no rights.”

Markey has again filed legislation, ‘COPPA 2.0′ to update the children’s online privacy protection act to in part ban targeted advertising to kids and stop online data collection on kids and teens.

“We cannot put the entire burden of managing social media on the shoulders of parents. We’ve got to step up and make sure that there are standards that parents can rely on that reduce access to harmful content,” said Murthy.

But Murthy says there are steps parents can take at home.

First, he says delay a child’s introduction to social media for as long as you can. Have open conversations with kids about what apps they’re using and how they make them feel. Create tech free zones to help create more time for sleep, physical activity and social interaction. And he suggests finding partner parents to navigate what your family is experiencing

“There are a lot of parents who are trying to figure this out, and there is strength in numbers so we can be there and support one another,” Murthy said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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