On 'Defining Public Health Issue of Our Time,' a Warning

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says social media is driving depression, anxiety in teens, kids
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2023 9:25 AM CDT
On 'Defining Public Health Issue of Our Time,' a Warning
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 8, 2022.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Few parents love seeing their kids hunched over their phones, scrolling like zombies through TikTok videos or Instagram posts, and a new warning from the nation's top doctor isn't about to alleviate those feelings. Per NBC News, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has issued a new report on youth mental health—what he calls "the defining public health issue of our time"—that finds social media is a big driver of teen depression and anxiety. And it's something adults can't ignore: The report finds that a staggering 95% of adolescents ages 13 to 17 use some sort of social media platform, with almost two-thirds of them logging on every day, and about a third using social media "almost constantly."

About 40% of children ages 8 to 12 are also on social media, Axios notes. It's those kids in the "almost constantly" group, however, that have Murthy most worried, as the report finds that children and teens who spend more than three hours per day on social media see double the risk of such mental health issues as depression and anxiety. Tied closely to that is how teens' body image perceptions are influenced by what they see online: Almost half of that group say that being on social media makes them feel worse about themselves in that regard. Murthy is now calling on parents and caregivers, policymakers, tech firms, researchers, and kids and teens themselves to remain vigilant on this demographic's social media use, warning that safety standards need to be put in place, including the enforcement of age minimums.

State and federal lawmakers are already working on various parental consent laws and enhanced age verification tools, and tech companies are introducing new safety features. Parents, meanwhile, can help by enforcing "tech-free" time throughout their children's day, Murthy says, per Axios. The outlet offers a "yes, but" on social media, which has been shown to offer some benefits for kids: For example, most teens (58%) say that social media helps them feel more accepted, while the vast majority (80%) say they feel more connected to what's happening with others. Still, Murthy tells NBC, "At this point, we do not have enough evidence to say with confidence that social media is sufficiently safe for our kids. We have to now take action to make sure that we are protecting our kids." (More social media stories.)

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