US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says he thinks 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms because although sites allow children of that age to join, children” are still 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 that I’ve seen, I believe 13 is too early… It’s a time when it’s really important for us to think about what’s going on in the way they think about their own worth and their relationships and the biased and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of these kids,” Murthy said on “CNN Newsroom.”
The number of teens on social media has sparked alarm among medical professionals, who point to a growing body of research on the harm these platforms can cause teens.
Murthy acknowledged the difficulties in keeping children away from these platforms given their popularity, but suggested that parents can achieve success by presenting a united front.
“If parents can come together and say you know, as a group, we’re not going to allow our kids to use social media until they’re 16, 17, or 18 or whatever their age is. choice, it’s a much more effective strategy to make sure your kids aren’t exposed to harm early on,” he told CNN.
New research suggests habitual checking of social media can alter teen brain chemistry.
According to a study published this month in JAMA Pediatrics, college students who checked social media more regularly displayed greater neural sensitivity in certain parts of their brains, making their brains more sensitive to social consequences over time.
Psychiatrists like Dr. Adriana Stacey have been pointing out this phenomenon for years. Stacey, who primarily works with teenagers and college students, previously told CNN using social media that there is a “dopamine dump” in the brain.
“When we do addictive things like use cocaine or use smartphones, our brain releases a lot of dopamine at once. This tells our brain to keep using it,” she said. “For teenagers in particular, that part of their brain is actually overactive compared to adults. They can’t be motivated to do anything else.
Recent studies demonstrate other ways screen time can impact 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 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 because so much of our life has turned into screen-to-screen communication, it just doesn’t give you the same sense of value and sense of satisfaction as talk to someone or see someone,” Murphy told CNN in an interview alongside Murthy.
For Murphy and Murthy, the problem of social media addiction is personal. Both men are fathers – Murphy for teenagers and Murthy for young children. “It’s no coincidence that Dr. Murthy and I probably talk more about this loneliness issue than others in public life,” Murphy told CNN. “I’m looking at this through the lens of being 14 years old and 11 years old.”
As a country, Murphy explained, the United States is not powerless against Big Tech. Lawmakers could make different decisions to limit young children from social media and incentivize companies to make algorithms less addictive.
The Surgeon General also touched on addictive algorithms, explaining that pitting teenagers 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 time they spend on these platforms. And if we tell a child to use the force of your will to control the time you spend on it, you’re pitting a child against the greatest product designers in the world.
Despite the obstacles facing parents and children, Murphy was optimistic 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. decisions to be made [social media] a healthier experience that would allow children to feel better about themselves and less alone.