The surgeon general has warned that social media is harmful to children. Should they be banned until they are older?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the major stories and debates of the day.

Photo illustration of a child with a hand on his forehead surrounded by social media logos and emoji.

Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images

What is happening

On Tuesday, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory calling for action to protect children from the potentially harmful effects of social media use on their mental health and well-being.

“We are in the midst of a national youth mental health crisis, and I fear that social media is a significant driver of this crisis – a crisis that we must urgently address,” Murthy said.

While the notice recognized social media as an effective educational tool for children that can create a personal identity, provide support, keep them informed of current events and allow them to communicate and build social networks, it also pointed to numerous studies showing that social media consumption can be “excessive and problematic” for adolescents and is linked to depression in young people who spend several hours a day on the platforms.

The advisory also states that around half of teens aged 13 to 17 said social media made them worse and “predicts later declines in life satisfaction at certain developmental stages, including for girls aged 11.” to 13 years old and boys from 14 to 14 years old. 15 years.” In addition, 64% of teenagers say that social networks “often” or “sometimes” expose them to hateful content.

One of the advice’s recommendations to ensure a safe and healthy environment is for tech companies to find better ways to meet minimum ages because of these studies.

Today, House and Senate lawmakers are finding rare alignment, backing bills aimed at putting safeguards around social media use — like raising the minimum age for social media to 16. years – as America’s youth continue to grapple with the evolving mental health crisis.

Why there is debate

The opinion indicates that approximately 95% of young people, aged 13 to 17, use social media. More than a third admit to using social media “almost constantly”. As it stands, a potential user on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat must be at least 13 years old to create an account. For TikTok, children under the age of 13 can access the platform, but their user experience is limited.

But the advice points to studies that show adolescents have a ‘highly sensitive period of brain development’ between the ages of 10 and 19, when they are most likely to take risks and when at increased risk of mental health problems like depression and anxiety begins to emerge. Studies show that using social media can also disrupt their sleep patterns, facilitate the spread of rumors and peer pressure, and paint an ‘unrealistic’ picture of others’ lives that they may be too young. to unravel.

“This population is particularly at risk because our children’s brain development can make the effects of social media greater and longer lasting,” Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, president and medical director of the Child Mind Institute, told Yahoo News. in a press release. . “Technology is also changing the way families operate today. We recommend that parents and guardians communicate with their child regularly and provide tools to help them approach social media safely and mindfully. »

Lawmakers like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., want to provide legislation allowing parents to “fight back” against Big Tech companies trying to “take advantage” of their children. But opponents fear politicians are campaigning against a program that can potentially harm young Americans by cutting off access to the communities that support them.

And after

In February, Hawley introduced two sets of bills “to protect children online.” The first bill – the MATURE Act to make age verification technology uniform, robust and effective – would mandate a minimum age of 16 for all social media users, preventing platforms from granting accounts to children who do not meet this requirement. . The second bill – the federal Social Media Research Act – would invest in a study to examine the effects of social media on children over the age of 10 and commission a report on the potential harms of social media.

That same month, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, introduced the Social Media Child Protection Act, which would make it illegal for social media platforms to give children under 16 access to their sites.


We need to give kids ‘effective tools’ to navigate social media, not restrict access

“Social media is itself a tool for gathering information. General statements, such as this one that children under 14 should not have access to social media, are not effective behavior change tools. We need to give our children the tools they need to navigate the world safely, not prevent them from being completely exposed to it.” – Dr. Lama Bazzi, Fox News Digital

Children are still developing mentally at 13

“Thirteen is too soon. … It’s a really important time for us to think about what’s going on in the way they think about their own worth and their relationships – and the biased environment and oft-tweaked social media often does a disservice to many of these children.—Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to CNN

It’s just politics as usual

“Technology moves so much faster than Congress. The purpose of this bill is for Senator Hawley to be able to say, “Look, this is what I came up with to solve this problem. And then there’s little action that follows afterwards. It’s a way to start a conversation and it’s a way for him to campaign on that ideal of him being tough on social media companies. —Daniel Desrochers, Kansas City Star Washington correspondent, to KCUR

Experts think there’s a generation of kids growing up too fast

“When we talk about teens in their early teens, we’re talking about a brain under construction. It’s not so much about how they’re going to behave online, but whether they’re ready for what they’re going to encounter. Social media opens up a very adult world. — David Anderson, senior director of the Child Mind Institute, at The Wall Street Journal

The youth mental health crisis goes beyond social media

“I think they are using social media as a scapegoat. The mental health crisis – there are a lot of factors that come into play. Yes, social media has brought that to light for some of these kids, but I don’t think just blocking or making media more difficult social conditions for children will really have an effect on the mental health problem that we have. — Chris Kunkle, parent of three, to USA Today

There are age requirements for anything potentially harmful to children

“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we need car seats and seat belts; we have fences around the pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16. The damage done to Gen Z by social media is undeniable – so why is there no protection in the digital world? – Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, statement

Hawley’s bill is a veil for the anti-LGBTQ agenda

“The social media ban is not just for the welfare of children, but rather is an extension of the right-wing anti-transgender agenda already present. Although Hawley mentions suicidality, depression and other mental health issues in his legislation, he and other conservatives nonetheless focus on alleged transgender threats lurking in every corner of social media, plotting to emasculate your sons and androgenize your daughters.—Alexandra Kauffman, Emory Wheel

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