The Office of the US Surgeon General, under the leadership of US surgeon general Vivek Murthy, released an official advisory stating that social media can have both positive and negative effects on the emotional well-being of America’s youth. .
About 95% of children ages 13 to 17 use social media, according to the report, and nearly 40% of children ages 8 to 12 use social media. Individuals generally must be at least 13 years of age to create an account on a social media site. But it is easy to bypass these age restrictions by simply inputting a fake date of birth.
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The report says more research needs to be conducted to quantify the harm social media is doing to children under 13. But it also acknowledges that parents, teachers, and researchers are becoming more aware – and concerned – about under 13s free access to social media.
The widespread use of social media is an issue that lawmakers are discussing, even at the federal level. When TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress, members asked him how his company plans to deal with the app’s growing number of children who see explicit and harmful content.
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US lawmakers have introduced legislation banning children under 13 from creating accounts on social media apps. Some bills require parental consent for children ages 13 to 17 to create a social media account.
Some laws target Big Tech and suggest that companies should implement fewer safety risk assessments, exclude children from algorithmic recommendations, and give parents more control. in the digital footprint of their children.
Staying connected with minority groups
A report by the Office of the US Surgeon General says that social media can benefit some young people who are looking for community online. These online communities can be useful for marginalized youth seeking guidance on racial, gender, and sexual concerns.
Children from minority groups may struggle to participate in school and find relief when they can connect with like-minded people online. The report states that 58% of teens find more acceptance on social media, 71% find joy in being creative online, and 80% enjoy being connected and informed about what’s going on in their friends’ lives. .
Experiencing depression and anxiety
The importance of observing and preserving mental health has become a normal topic of discussion in recent years, especially in online forums. But spending too much time on social media can also contribute to poor mental health.
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The report cites a longitudinal study that found that American children ages 12 to 15 who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.
These adverse outcomes are more prevalent among young women, according to research. In particular, young women experience body image issues and unhealthy eating behaviors due to the use of social media. In 2021, a Facebook whistleblower revealed that Instagram’s algorithm was pushing harmful body image and disturbing food content to girls — and the company knew.
The report also cites research that concludes that teenagers get less sleep due to problematic, compulsive, or excessive use of social media. Poor sleep quality, reduced attention, and mood disorders have been linked to social media use until midnight or later in adolescents.
Keeping our children safe online
The report says that policymakers can mitigate some of these issues by strengthening protections to ensure the safety of minors online, requiring a higher standard of data privacy for of minors, and strong enforcement of minimum ages.
The report also suggests that policymakers should work with international partners to protect children online, ensure that technology companies share data about the impact of their platforms, and support digital enforcement. media literacy in schools.
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Tech companies should create products and tools that encourage a safe environment for minors online, establish advisory committees to monitor and implement policies to keep children safe online, and ensure that the default settings are made to keep children’s data safe.
Parents and caregivers should encourage tech-free zones in their homes and plan as much face-to-face time with their children as possible. They should also model appropriate behaviors online, talk to other parents about their stance on social media, and have open conversations with their children about online safety.