Surgeon General says 13 is ‘too early’ to join social media

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US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says he thinks 13 is too young for kids to be on social media platforms, because even though the sites allow kids that age to join, kids still they are “developing their identity”.

Meta, Twitter, and a host of other social media giants currently allow 13-year-olds to join their platforms.

“Personally, based on the data I’ve seen, I think 13 is too early… It’s a time where it’s really important for us to be thoughtful about what’s going on with how they think about their own worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often hurts many of these children,” Murthy said on “CNN Newsroom.”

The number of teens on social media has raised alarm among medical professionals, who point to a growing body of research on the harm such platforms can do to teens.

Murthy acknowledged the difficulties of keeping children off these platforms given their popularity, but suggested that parents can succeed by presenting a united front.

“If parents can come together and say, you know, as a group, we’re not going to let our kids use social media until they’re 16, 17, 18 or whatever age they choose, that’s a much more effective strategy to make sure that their children are not exposed to damage early,” he told CNN.

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New research suggests that habitually checking social media may alter teens’ brain chemistry.

According to a study published this month in JAMA Pediatrics, students who checked social media more frequently showed increased neural sensitivity in certain parts of their brains, making them more sensitive to social consequences over time.

Psychiatrists like Dr. Adriana Stacey have pointed out this phenomenon for years. Stacey, who primarily works with teenagers and college students, previously told CNN that social media use releases a “dopamine rush” in the brain.

“When we do things that are addictive like using cocaine or using smartphones, our brains release a lot of dopamine at once. It tells our brain to keep using that,” she said. “For adolescents in particular, this part of their brain is really overactive compared to adults. They can’t motivate themselves to do anything else.”

Recent studies show other ways excessive screen time can affect brain development. In young children, for example, excessive screen time was significantly associated with poorer emergent literacy skills and the ability to use expressive language.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who recently published an op-ed in the Bulwark on loneliness and mental health, echoed the surgeon general’s concerns about social media. “We have lost something as a society, as so much of our life has become screen-to-screen communication, it just doesn’t give you the same sense of value and the same sense of satisfaction as talking to someone or seeing someone. Murphy told CNN in an interview with Murthy.

For both Murphy and Murthy, the problem of social media addiction is personal. Both men are fathers: Murphy as teenagers and Murthy as young children. “It’s not a coincidence that Dr. Murthy and I are probably talking about this loneliness issue more than others in public life,” Murphy told CNN. “I see this through the prism of my 14-year-old son and my 11-year-old son.”

As a country, Murphy explained, the US is not powerless in the face of big tech. Lawmakers could make different decisions about limiting young children’s access to social media and incentivizing companies to make algorithms less addictive.

The surgeon general similarly addressed addictive algorithms, explaining that pitting teens against big tech is “just not a fair fight.” He told CNN: “You have some of the best product designers and developers in the world that have designed these products to make sure that people maximize the amount of time they spend on these platforms. And if we say to a child, use her willpower to control how much time she’s spending, you’re pitting a child against the best product designers in the world.”

Despite the obstacles facing parents and children, Murphy struck a note of optimism about the future of social media.

“None of this is out of our control. When we had dangerous vehicles on the road, we passed laws to make those vehicles less dangerous,” he told CNN. “We must make decisions to do [social media] a healthier experience that would make children feel better about themselves and less alone.”

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