U.S. surgeon general says social media can put young people in danger Dr. Vivek Murthy says social media makes kids feel worse about themselves, and they can't get off of it. He says "we need safety standards for social media the way we have for cars, for car seats."

Social media can put young people in danger, U.S. surgeon general warns

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The U.S. Surgeon General is the latest to warn about the dangers of social media to kids. Vivek Murthy has put out an advisory on children's social media and mental health. And he joins us once again. Surgeon General, welcome back.

VIVEK MURTHY: Well, thanks so much. Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note this is a common story, a widely reported story, the idea that kids are looking constantly at videos and pictures online. And they're influenced often in very negative ways. But tell me, how powerful is the evidence of a connection between social media and depression or other mental health crises for kids?

MURTHY: Well, I'm glad you asked, Steve, because the most common question that I get from parents around the country is about social media. And they ask me, is social media safe for my kids? And I also hear concerns from kids, too, which is really important to know. Most kids tell me three things about social media. It makes them feel worse about themselves or worse about their friendships, but they can't get off it.

And I'm issuing an advisory today on social media and youth mental health because the bottom line is we do not have enough evidence to conclude that social media is in fact sufficiently safe for our kids. Instead, what we have is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harms. So consider that teens who use social media for more than three hours a day face double the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms, which is particularly concerning given that the average amount of time that kids use social media is 3 1/2 hours a day.

INSKEEP: So double the risk. There's an association between the more social media you use, the more you have that risk. That's what you're saying?

MURTHY: That's right. And it's not even just a risk of depression and anxiety symptoms, but we find that nearly half of adolescents are saying that social media makes them feel worse about their body image. And, you know, as a father of two children, I want what every parent wants. I want my kids to grow up confident, to feel good about themselves, to be positioned to succeed and thrive and build healthy relationships in the world. But too many kids are actually telling us that they're having an experience on social media that's subjecting them not only to feeling worse about themselves, but to bullying, to harassment, to content that is sexual and violent, the kind of things which, as parents, we would not want our kids to be exposed to. But that has become their experience for many of them on social media.

INSKEEP: At the same time, your advisory refers to evidence gaps. I've been reading it here. And you refer to a lack of access to data from social media companies. What do you need to know that you do not yet know?

MURTHY: So many researchers around the country tell us that they've had a hard time getting the data that they need from social media companies to understand fully the extent of impact on kids, particularly when it comes to mental health. What we need to know is not only the full extent of impact, but which kids are most impacted in terms of benefits and harms. We also need to understand more about the mechanisms through which social media confers potential harms.

But what we really have to do here, Steve, is, ultimately, we need to have the backs of parents because for too long, we have put the entire burden of managing this new technology that's rapidly evolving, that's fundamentally changing how our kids think about themselves and interact with each other and the world - we've put the entire burden on the shoulders of parents and kids. And it's time for us to have their backs, which is why in the advisory, I not only lay out the challenges, what the data says, but I call for specific action from technology companies, from policymakers, because we need safety standards for social media the way we have for cars, for car seats, for toys, for medications and for other products that kids use so that parents have more assurance that these products are safe for their kids.

INSKEEP: We can't go through all the details of these proposed regulations. I've been reading them as well, though. It's very interesting. Nevertheless, they're not that specific. So tell me a principle. What is a principle of government regulation that makes sense, the thing the government should be doing here?

MURTHY: So one of the key things government should do is to establish, implement and enforce safety standards. We do this for cars. We do this for many other products. We should be doing that here. And we have not done...

INSKEEP: What does that mean? Safety standards, meaning that they have to affirmatively show that Instagram or TikTok or whatever does not cause depression in kids? Is that what they have to do?

MURTHY: Right. So what you want to do with safety standards is, in this case with social media, you want to ensure that there are - these standards call for measures that protect kids from exposure to harmful content, that protect them from harassment online, particularly from strangers. Keep in mind, 6 in 10 adolescent girls say that they've been approached by strangers in social media in ways that make them feel uncomfortable.

You also want these measures to protect against excessive use. You know, adolescents are at a very sensitive stage of brain development where they are more prone to social cues, social pressures. And that exists in abundance on social media. But the platforms are designed to maximize time that our kids spend on them. What I really care about as a doctor is, I care about the health and the well-being of our kids. And these - what we need are standards that actually - and measures that reduce the likelihood kids will be exposed to features that will manipulate them to spend more time on these platforms at the expense of their health.

INSKEEP: Surgeon General, thank you so much. It's always a pleasure talking with you.

MURTHY: Good to talk to you as well, Steve. Take care.

INSKEEP: Dr. Vivek Murthy is the United States Surgeon General.

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