The U.S. surgeon general warns about social media’s dangers

The Impact of Social Media Use on Brain Development: A U.S. Surgeon General’s Advice to Parents and the Future of Mental Health

Social media can present a real risk to the mental health of children and teenagers because of the ways their brains are affected by the amount of time they spend using it, the U.S. surgeon general warns in a new advisory released Tuesday.

The surgeon general called on policymakers, tech companies, researchers and parents to take action to safeguard against the potential risks.

“Adolescents are not just smaller adults,” Dr. Murthy said in an interview with The New York Times about the advisory. They are at a critical phase of brain development, in a different phase of development.

The report said that there are changes in the developing brain in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex that may be associated with frequent social media use.

The report also cited research indicating that up to 95 percent of teens reported using at least one social media platform, while more than one-third said they used social media “almost constantly.” Almost 40 percent of kids ages 8 to 12 use social media even though the minimum age for most sites is 13.

“We’ve got to do what we do in other areas where we have product safety issues, which is to set in place safety standards that parents can rely on, that are actually enforced,” he told the NYT.

Social Media: What Children Are Saying about Facebook, and What Can the Government Can Do to Increase Regulated Online Activities to Protect Children’s Mental Health

However, the advisory also outlines several potential benefits of social media, particularly for marginalized groups. A report shows that social media may be used to support the mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other youths.

He advocated for tech companies, researchers, families and policymakers to do more to understand the vulnerabilities of young people and to figure out standards to make them safe and healthy.

He spoke to Morning Edition about the new advisory, what children are saying about social media, and what the government can do to increase regulation.

These standards are for measures that protect children from exposure to harmful content, and protection from harassment online, particularly from strangers.

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