Health official calls for health warnings on social media to protect teenagers’ mental health 

One of the top health officials in the United States has urged the nation to introduce smoking-style warning labels on social media platforms. 

In an article for the New York Times, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy highlighted the increased risk of anxiety and depression in children associated with social media use.

The impact of social media on young people is a subject of ongoing debate. Some studies have shown a correlation between heavy social media use and negative effects on teenagers’ mental health, including decreased life satisfaction. 

However, a 2023 study found no evidence linking the global proliferation of Facebook to widespread psychological harm. Additionally, other research suggests that some children benefit from online interactions with friends they know offline.

The American Psychological Association (APA) maintains that social media is “not inherently beneficial or harmful” but warns against problematic use and advocates for the removal of harmful content. The APA also recommends monitoring social media use for most children under 14.

Murthy pointed out that warning labels on tobacco products have been effective in raising awareness about smoking risks. He believes that similar labels on social media platforms could prompt parents to better monitor their children’s online activities.

In his article, Murthy also advocated for banning phone use in schools and advised parents to restrict device usage during meals and at bedtime. 

This follows his 2023 public health advisory linking teenage social media use to poor mental health outcomes. Although Murthy acknowledges the lack of academic consensus on the issue, he is calling for more research to be conducted.

In the article, he says that warning labels could be used to “regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proven safe”, and that social media platforms are “associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents”.

He added: “In an emergency, you don’t have the luxury to wait for perfect information. You assess the available facts, you use your best judgment, and you act quickly. The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency – and social media has emerged as an important contributor.”

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