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U.S. Surgeon General warns social media may be harmful to kids

Posted at 11:19 PM, May 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-24 14:36:22-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory Tuesday calling on lawmakers and big tech companies to do more to protect kids from the harms of social media use.

The new report references a 2019 study that found teens who spent more than three hours a day on social media doubled their risk for mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

The report highlights the issue parents and other adults have on how much time to allow children to access social media.

Jasmine Acosta has three children, ages 10, 8 and 4.

"My eldest does have a cell phone. We initially got it in case of an emergency," Acosta said.

The risks of too much time on social media come at a crucial point in child development.

"You become more and more connected to this thing rather than the people that are important to you," Psychologist Dr. Gabriel Cline said. “It’s not just this issue of it’s cool and so we start using it, there’s an actual neurochemical release that happens when people are engaging and getting likes and getting these connections through social media," Dr. Cline said. "It creates a false sense of connection, a false sense of intimacy.”

He and psychiatrist Dr. Sasha Hamdani say more needs to be done to protect kids.

"Especially as your child's brain is growing and developing, it's important to have early intervention and tools to deal with that," Dr. Hamdani said. “Kids as their brains are growing and developing, that’s a very important transitional period of neural development and laying a foundation for your adulthood. If that’s skewed by a lot of negative imagery or distorted thoughts around social media that's going to impact how you transition into adulthood.”

But until tech companies or government regulators step in to set limits, it's up to parents to monitor social media use.

"You have to take those steps to protect them. The kids may not like it, but it's your responsibility as a parent," Dr. Cline said.

For Acosta, it started with finding the right phone that let her track and moderate its use.

Apple offers family apps meant to limit how long and what kinds of apps kids can use.

“What you can do is control the time that they use the phone, you can control what websites they go on and you can also control if you want them to be able to download any apps," Acosta said.

Acosta says to have an honest conversation with your kids about the good and bad sides of social media.

"There are not always good people in this world. And some of those people may be on TikTok or Facebook," she said.

It's also important to encourage children to go outside and spend time with friends.

"It teaches kids social skills. Instead of talking to someone behind a computer screen you're talking to them face to face," Acosta said.