U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, shown here at the United States...

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, shown here at the United States Conference of Mayors 91st Winter Meeting on January 18, 2023 in Washington, D.C., said he believed 13-year-olds should not have access to social media.  Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

Young teens should not have access to social media platforms because it might distort their developing views on relationships and self-worth, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Sunday.

“I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early,” for social media, Murthy said during an interview on “CNN Newsroom.”

“It’s a time where it’s really important for us to be thoughtful about what’s going into how they think about their own self-worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children.”

Mental health experts and researchers have long warned about the negative impact of social media on teens ranging from depression to disrupted sleep, distraction and bullying. Popular sites such as Snapchat and TikTok allow 13-year-olds to create accounts.

Dr. Vera Feuer, a Long Island-based psychiatrist specializing in children and adolescents said she was happy to see the surgeon general address the issue of social media and kids. She said she believes technology companies that create social media platforms should have stricter regulations with regard to access for teens.

“We do see an impact on kids and the younger they start the bigger the impact,” said Feuer, associate vice president of school mental health at Northwell Health. “They have less control, their brains are less developed and they’re more impulsive. I’m sure there are some 13-year-olds who are ready and well prepared by their parents to critically manage their technology use and social media but most are not.”

Feuer noted that many children even younger than 13 are exposed to social media and YouTube videos. She said it’s important for parents to be involved in making decisions about access to technology.

“Parents, I think for the most part, are sort of clueless in terms of their children’s online lives,” she said.

A 2022 Pew Research Center survey of American teens between the ages of 13 and 17 found that 95% use YouTube, 67% use TikTok, 62% use Instagram and 59% use Snapchat.

Of the respondents who said they “almost constantly” visit or use the apps, 15% said Snapchat, 16% said TikTok and 19% said YouTube.

A study released earlier this month in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics examined how frequently checking Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat impacted a group of 6th and 7th graders. Many kids constantly check their posts looking for “likes’ and other feedback.

Researchers found that social media behaviors in early adolescence “may be associated with changes in adolescents’ neural development, specifically neural sensitivity to potential social feedback.”

Limiting social media access could be challenging since many teens use the popular sites to stay connected and in communication with their peers.

“Kids fear about missing out and not being a part of something,” Feuer said.

Murthy suggested that parents “band together” and collectively decide to not allow kids to use social media until they are 16, 17, 18 or whatever age they choose.

Feuer recommended that families have a discussion and put together a media plan that sets rules on how everyone in a household uses their phones or other electronic devices so there are spaces and times that are completely technology free, such as at the dinner table.

Parents also need to talk to their kids about what they are watching and how they are interacting on social media.

“Even for young kids, there is a big difference between letting them watch whatever and discussing what they are seeing, asking questions and having conversations,” she said. “But just like any other peer pressure issue, parents need not shy away from these conversations.”

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