Surgeon General Says Children Need Warnings in Social Media
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Surgeon General Says Children Need Warnings in Social Media

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The U.S. surgeon general is calling for warning labels to appear in social media to protect children’s mental health. While it may sound odd at first, American consumers are actually pretty used to encountering warning labels. They’re in our cars and on our appliances, stuck on just about anything you can buy. When it comes to things for children, warning labels are especially plentiful.

Now after years of hearing again and again how social media harms the mental health of its users, especially children, it’s really true we need this. Announcing his new initiative in a New York Times opinion piece, Dr. Vivek Murphy called for “a surgeon general’s warning on social media platforms.”2

Social media and children’s mental health

In his essay, Dr. Murphy reiterated the dangers that social media poses to mental health. He noted that “three hours a day on social media… double[s] the risk of anxiety and depression.”2 The majority of teens go way over that every day. In fact, roughly a third of teens and younger adolescents report being on their phones almost constantly. “Nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies,” remarked Dr. Murphy.2 At the same time, we’re seeing record numbers of children and adolescents suffering and seeking help for mental health issues.

We’ve covered thistopic extensively before. In fact, just over a year ago we reported on Surgeon General Murphy’s public advisory requesting “legislation from Congress should shield young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content.”2 Social media makes it very easy for children to view harmful content and fall victim to predators without parents’ knowledge. In addition to depression and anxiety, social media overuse can contribute to ADHD, body image disorders, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.

Surgeon general’s warnings

Integrating warning labels into social media can work, but we need the approval of congress to enact a surgeon general’s warning. The most well-known surgeon general’s warnings of all are those emblazoned on packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products. When the U.S. first put these warnings on cigarettes back in 1966, about 42% of Americans smoked. That’s down to about 11% now.

This just demonstrates how incredibly effective surgeon general’s warnings can be. Unfortunately, the surgeon general cannot make these unilaterally. It needs the approval of congress. Although, this is one of the few topics that enjoys bipartisan support in our nation’s legislature. Senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle in the federal government and in the states are demanding more oversight of social media companies. In fact, many states such as Utah and Montana are already taking legal action in this direction. Hopefully, this will lead to legislation on the federal level soon.

References
  1. Cummings, K. M., & Proctor, R. N. (2014). The Changing Public Image of Smoking in the United States: 1964–2014. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology, 23(1), 32.
  2. Murthy, V. H. (2024). Opinion | Surgeon General: Social Media Platforms Need a Health Warning. N.Y. Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2024/06/17/opinion/social-media-health-warning.html

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