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U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy Calls for Warning Labels on Social Media: ‘Youth Mental Health Crisis’

Murthy says parents and children should all be made aware of potentially harmful impacts of media platforms


U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy is calling for mental health warning labels on social media platforms. Dr. Murthy wrote an op-ed in The  New York Times published on June 17,  in which he referred to the mental health crisis amongst young populations an “emergency,” and pointed to social media as a factor.  Keep scrolling to learn more about what he surmised regarding teens and media platforms.

Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy’s social media youth warning explained

In his op-ed, Dr. Murthy noted scientific studies which found that adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the daily average in this age group as of summer 2023 was 4.8 hours

“It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents,” Dr. Murthy wrote. “A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe.”

Why does Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy want health warning labels for social media? 

Dr. Murthy acknowledged that a  warning label itself would  not remedy the issues presented by social media. The idea, he said , would be to increase awareness and implement subsequent policy changes. A year ago, Dr. Murthy issued an advisory regarding young people’s mental health and social media, including actionable recommendations for policymakers, online platforms and the public to make social media safer for kids.

“Legislation from Congress should shield young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content that too often appears in algorithm-driven feeds,” Dr. Murthy asserted. “The measures should prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and should restrict the use of features like push notifications, autoplay and infinite scroll, which prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use.”

Dr. Murthy also called  on the tech companies behind these platforms to share all of their data on health effects both with independent scientists and the public (which they currently do not) and allow independent safety audits in order to provide concrete proof that they are consistently ramping up health and safety efforts. 

Adults also have a responsibility, Dr. Murthy wrote. He suggested phone use should be limited or prohibited in school classrooms, recreational spaces and in the home around bedtime, meals and social gatherings to encourage in-person socialization. Kids also shouldn’t receive their first cell phones until after middle school, he suggested.  

“This is much easier said than done, which is why parents should work together with other families to establish shared rules, so no parents have to struggle alone or feel guilty when their teens say they are the only one who has to endure limits,” Dr. Murthy wrote. “And young people can build on teen-focused efforts like the Log Off movement and Wired Human to support one another in reforming their relationship with social media and navigating online environments safely.”

Health professionals also play a role, Dr. Murthy attested, and he implored public health officials to demand healthy digital environments for young people. Additionally, he wrote, doctors, nurses and other clinicians should foster conversations about the risks of social media with kids and parents and guide them toward safer practices. 

How do kids and parents feel about social media and mental health? 

Teen boy looks down at his phone

In addition to the statistics about social media use and mental health, Dr. Murthy said  one of his core motivations for this call-to-action is the personal stories he has heard directly from people around the country. For example, a woman shared with him that her daughter took her own life after being cyber-bullied, despite her mother’s best efforts to monitor her social media. 

Many of the same concerns are evident in adolescents as well, Dr. Murthy added, sharing that he visited a school last year to speak with students about mental health, and was told that despite the benefits of social media, there were things the students admittedly found detrimental. 

“One by one, they spoke about their experiences with social media: the endless comparison with other people that shredded their self-esteem, the feeling of being addicted and unable to set limits and the difficulty having real conversations on platforms that too often fostered outrage and bullying,” he said . “There was a sadness in their voices, as if they knew what was happening to them but felt powerless to change it.”

When does Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy want social media  warning labels to be issued? 

From Dr. Murthy’s perspective, this is an issue that requires immediate action. In fact, he opened  the piece with an anecdote about his time in medical school and being taught that these situations can’t wait for concrete answers or objectively perfect solutions. Rather, the presently available information should be combined with the best possible judgment to take action quickly. 

“We have the expertise, resources and tools to make social media safe for our kids,” he said . “Now is the time to summon the will to act. Our children’s well-being is at stake.”

Keep reading for advice on how to boost your mental health:

Need a Mood Boost? Cue Up Dolly Parton — Neural Nostalgia Experts Say Music Really Can Improve Health

How to Stop Worrying About Things You Can’t Control: Experts Share Their 6 Best Tricks

5 Expert Ways To Outsmart Imposter Syndrome + Boost Your Confidence

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