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US Surgeon General says social media is a danger to youth mental health

Slapped with a warning label, that’s what America’s top health official is calling for when it comes to social media sites.

The US Surgeon General is demanding that congress pass legislation that could put a warning on social media apps. It would be similar to the ones you see on Alcohol and Tobacco. It’s the latest proposal try to corral and curb the large social media companies, especially when it comes to their influence on teens.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published an op-ed in the New York Times that ran Monday morning. Murthy said social media has contributed to the ongoing mental health crisis for young people.

He says the mental health crisis among teens and young people is an urgent problem, other groups have dubbed it a crisis. Both the Identity Theft Resource Center and the American Psychological association have released reports in the last year saying people have reported poor mental health and thoughts of suicide linked to concerns online and with social media. At least one survey looked at general populations, but many groups say that it’s clear that young people are bearing a burden since they’re on social media a lot.

A Gallup poll found that teens spend nearly 5 hours a day on social media apps. The Surgeon general called social media an “important contributor” when it comes to mental health issues, he also suggested making schools phone-free environments and restricting kids’ social media use until after middle school.

We’ve seen an effort locally to try to do what the surgeon general suggested. Two Seattle Public Schools, Hamilton Middle School and Robert Eagle Staff Middle School recently took steps to disconnect students from their cell phones in the classroom next school year.

Cell phones were already barred at Hamilton, but enforcement was tough, with help from the PTSA the school came up with a strategy. They’re using pouches that will hold their phones during the day, parents advocated for the measure.

In the last few months, KIRO 7 spoke to a Behavioral Health specialist who said the problem has been around for a while. Dr. Mike Franz is the executive Medical Director of Behavioral Health with Regence BlueShield and he says the issue goes back nearly two decades.

“Around 2007 of course was the advent of the smartphone and a few years after that social media really took root. When we look at prevalence and challenges in children’s behavioral health, it really tracks along those lines and then and had additional pressures and challenges put on it with the onset of the Pandemic,” said Franz.

Surgeon General Murthy also cited a 2019 American Medical Association study that showed teens double their risk of depression when they spend three hours a day on social media. He believes if Congress passes legislation that could create the warning labels, use of social media apps would decline, much like what happened with smoking when labels were put on packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The same day that the Surgeon General revealed these proposals, Snapchat released info saying it’s expanding the apps’ safety features.

There will be improvements to curb bullying and contact from strangers -- which would include in App warnings if strangers are trying to get in touch, there will also be simplified location sharing, and enhanced protections when it comes to friending people, along with improvements to blocking people.

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