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Breaking News: US Surgeon General Sounds the Alarm Against Social Media Use for Adolescents

The latest update from the Surgeon General on the dangers of social media

Words by
Morgan Wilcock

MAY 23, 2023

Breaking News: US Surgeon General Sounds the Alarm Against Social Media Use for Adolescents

The latest update from the Surgeon General on the dangers of social media

US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, just released an advisory warning regarding the dangerous effects of social media on the developing minds of young people. This warning supplements his previous advisory released earlier this year that cites 13-years-old as too young to use social media.

There are ample indicators that social media can . . . have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.

—Dr Vivek Murthy, United States Surgeon General

Social Media Causes Harm

The advisory warns that an overwhelming body of research indicates that social media has the potential to cause debilitating harm to adolescents, research that leads us to sound the alarm, examine the dangers and risks of social media for our kids, and make parenting decisions that will protect them. 

Although the advisory mentions the potential for youth to make connections on social media where they can find acceptance and express creativity, the majority of the report focuses on the poor mental health outcomes suffered by children and adolescents who use the platforms.

Youth Mental Health at Risk from Social Media

The advisory urges social media companies to shoulder part of the burden that currently falls on parents to protect children from the dangers of social media. These dangers include increased risk of developing anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm ideation. 

Research into the effects of social media on youth mental health is still in its infancy due to the relatively new advent of social media, so longitudinal studies are limited and still in progress. However, studies that have been conducted indicate that less time spent on social media almost invariably leads to increased life-satisfaction, better self-control, and higher self-esteem.

Read about the previous Surgeon General’s warning about social media from December 2021

Admiral Vivek Murthy—our “nation’s doctor”— issued an advisory in December of 2021, Protecting Youth Mental Health: A U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory to warn technology industries, parents, and community leaders about growing mental health concerns amongst adolescents. The advisory calls attention to an “alarming increase” in teen mental health problems, with “one in three high school students and half of female students report[ing] persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness” (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021, p. 3).


Why the Notice?

  • The decline in adolescent mental health is very concerning
  • The tech industry is held accountable and warned
United States Public Health Service
Worsening Mental Health Among Adolescents

The advisory calls attention to just how much teens use social media, citing, “In 2020, 81% of 14- to 22-year-olds said they used social media either “daily” or “almost constantly” (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021, p. 25). Admiral Murthy explains several reasons for the trend, but outlines actions of the tech industry, which have fostered potentially hazardous environments for young people.

The document explains that “social media, video gaming, and other technology companies” should contribute solutions because their products have been shown to “expose children to bullying, contribute to obesity and eating disorders, trade off with sleep, encourage children to negatively compare themselves to others, and lead to depression, anxiety, and self-harm” (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021, p. 25). 

There is a clear need to better understand the impact of technologies such as social media on different kinds of users, and to address the harms to users most at risk.

-Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. Vice Admiral, Surgeon General of the United States

People Before Profits

The surgeon general suggests that tech companies have an obligation to put people before profits in order to improve youth mental health, even if it comes at the expense to these companies in “engagement, scale, and profit.” Suggested ideas include educating families about risks, developing products that encourage growth and development, and limiting content that would harm kids.

People before profits with a scale

What Can Families Do?

The surgeon general offers several recommendations for how young people, families, and community leaders can make a difference.

What can families do to improve mental health


How Can We Move Forward?

  • Recognize online dangers
  • Use social media in positive ways

There is still a need for more research about the impact of social media, but Admiral Murthy points out that certain online activities hurt some young people, and the results can be devastating (Office, 2021, p. 25). He calls for a deeper analysis of who is most at risk and what can be done to protect them. He encourages youth and parents to use social media in positive ways, such as connecting meaningfully with friends and family.

Only when we demand change will we be able to protect, strengthen, and support the health and safety of all children, adolescents, and young adults—and ensure everyone has a platform to thrive.

-Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. Vice Admiral, Surgeon General of the United States, 2021

In spite of the sacrifices that it may require, we will see progress when “all of society” contributes to solutions (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021, p. 4). “This is the moment to demand change—with our voices and with our actions” (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021, p. 40). 

Until tech companies step up, we recommend looking for safe tech solutions like Gabb to help reduce the harm found on smartphones.

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