The top US health official on Tuesday issued a stark warning to parents, tech companies and regulators, saying there is mounting evidence that social media use can seriously harm children.
In a lengthy notice, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that while not without benefits, “there are ample indicators that social media may also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
Murthy’s report said social media can help children and adolescents find a community in which to connect, but that it also contains “extreme, inappropriate and harmful content,” which can “normalize” self-harm and suicide.
It can perpetuate body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and depression and expose children to online bullying as they are going through a critical stage in brain development, the report warns.
Murthy called on policymakers to strengthen social media safety standards and urged tech companies to responsibly assess the impact of their products on children and share data with researchers.
She also advised parents to establish tech-free zones at home to promote in-person communication and to educate children by modeling healthy, responsible online behavior.
The report comes at a time when US authorities are looking for ways to regulate the use of social media and curb its negative effects on young people in particular.
Earlier this month, the US state of Montana banned the use of TikTok on its territory. The Chinese-owned video-sharing giant is challenging the decision in court. And in March, Utah became the first US state to require social media sites to obtain parental consent for accounts used by minors.
“We are in the midst of a national youth mental health crisis and I am concerned that social media is a major driver of that crisis, which we must urgently address,” Murthy said.