TUESDAY, May 23, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Social media presents a “profound risk” to young brains, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., warned on Tuesday.
In the new report — Surgeon General’s Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health — Murthy warned about the risks of social media use for young people and called on policymakers, tech companies, researchers and parents to “urgently take action.” The full effect of social media is not well understood, he noted. Among the concerns are that if children are using social media frequently they may actually be altering their developing brains, specifically in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. These are important for emotional learning, emotional regulation, impulse control, and social behavior. This “could increase sensitivity to social rewards and punishments,” the report stated.
Reaction to the report was enthusiastic. “Today’s children and teens do not know a world without digital technology, but the digital world wasn’t built with children’s healthy mental development in mind,” Sandy Chung, M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement. “We need an approach to help children both on and offline that meets each child where they are while also working to make the digital spaces they inhabit safer and healthier. The Surgeon General’s Advisory calls for just that approach.”
Social media can have both positives and negatives for teens, including connection with others on the plus side and “extreme, inappropriate, and harmful content,” including self-harming behavior, as a clear downside. “In early adolescence, when identities and sense of self-worth are forming, brain development is especially susceptible to social pressures, peer opinions, and peer comparison,” the report stated.
Most platforms limit usage to age 13 and up, but nearly 40 percent of children aged 8 to 12 use social media, according to the report.
“Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment,” Murthy wrote in the report. “It is critical that independent researchers and technology companies work together to rapidly advance our understanding of the impact of social media on children and adolescents.”
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