US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says he believes 13 is too young for kids to be on social media platforms because even though sites allow kids that age to join, kids are still “assessing their identities develop”.
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 believe 13 is too early… It’s a time when it’s really important for us to think hard about how they feel about their self-worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted social media environment often does many of those kids a disservice,” Murthy said on “CNN Newsroom.”
The number of teens on social media has raised the alarm among medical professionals, who point to a growing body of research into the harm such platforms can cause to adolescents.
Murthy acknowledged the difficulties of keeping children off these platforms given their popularity, but suggested that parents can achieve success by presenting a united front.
“If parents can unite and say you know that as a group we don’t allow our kids to use social media until they’re 16, 17 or 18, or whatever age they choose, that’s a much more effective strategy to make sure your kids aren’t exposed to harm early on,” he told CNN.
New research suggests that checking social media regularly may alter adolescent brain chemistry.
According to a study published this month in JAMA Pediatrics, college students who checked social media more often showed greater neural sensitivity in certain areas of their brains, making their brains more sensitive to social consequences over time.
Psychiatrists such as Dr. Adriana Stacey have been pointing out this phenomenon for years. Stacey, who works primarily with teens and college students, previously told CNN that using social media releases a “dopamine dump” in the brain.
“When we do things that are addictive, like using cocaine or using smartphones, our brain releases a lot of dopamine all at once. It tells our brain to keep using that,” she said. “Especially in teenagers, this part of their brain is actually hyperactive compared to adults. They can’t get motivated to do anything else.”
Recent studies show other ways excessive screen time can affect brain development. For example, in young children, excessive screen time was significantly associated with poorer emergent literacy and the ability to use expressive language.
Democratic Senator 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’ve lost something as a society as much of our lives have turned to screen to screen communication, it just doesn’t give you the same sense of value and sense of accomplishment as talking to or seeing someone,” shared Murphy to CNN in an interview with Murthy.
For both Murphy and Murthy, the issue of social media addiction is personal. Both men are fathers – Murphy to teens and Murthy to young children. “It’s no coincidence that Dr. Murthy and I probably talk more about this issue of loneliness than others in public life,” Murphy told CNN. “I’m looking at this through the prism of my 14-year-old and my 11-year-old.”
As a country, Murphy explains, the US is not powerless against Big Tech. Lawmakers can make different decisions about restricting young children from social media and incentivizing companies to make algorithms less addictive.
The Surgeon General spoke similarly about addictive algorithms, explaining that pitting adolescents against Big Tech is “just not a fair fight.” He told CNN, “You have some of the best designers and product developers in the world who have designed these products to make sure people maximize the amount of time they spend on these platforms. And if we tell a child to use the force of your willpower to determine how much time to spend on it, you put a child against the best product designers in the world.”
Despite the hurdles faced by parents and children, Murphy was optimistic about the future of social media.
“None of this is beyond our control. When we had dangerous vehicles on the road, we passed laws to make those vehicles less dangerous,” he told CNN. “We have to make decisions [social media] a healthier experience that makes children feel better about themselves and less alone.”