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We’ve suspected this for a long time, but now even Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General of the United States, is saying it: Kids under the age of 13 shouldn’t be on social media. According to Murthy, kids at that age are still developing their identity, and shouldn’t be exposed to the “skewed and often distorted environment of social media.” In other words, being on Instagram and Facebook at that early age can really mess with your head.
How young is too young for social media?
There is now mounting evidence from pediatricians that social media can have a physical, not just emotional, impact on young kids. According to new research published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, social media can alter the brain chemistry of teens. Essentially, social media acts like a “dopamine dump.” Every new like, follow, or subscription on social media is like getting a tiny hit of dopamine. No wonder kids are on social media all day – they’re literally addicted to what they’re seeing on their tiny mobile screens.
And that’s not all. There’s also growing evidence that excessive screen time is directly responsible for poor emerging literacy skills. Young kids today might be proficient at emojis and internet slang, but they can’t communicate. Is it overstating things to say that social media is making us dumber?
Does Silicon Valley really care?
The problem, quite frankly, is that the big tech giants of Silicon Valley might not care what’s happening to our kids. It’s much easier to adapt and tweak apps made for adults than to create brand new apps and websites specifically tailored to kids. And it’s very convenient to gloss over research data that does not lead to new sources of profitability. Whistleblowers have already pointed out that companies like Facebook have had access to research results on social media’s effects on kids for years. They know what’s going on, even if they claim they don’t.
Laws and regulations
Against this backdrop, the only answer might be requiring the big social media companies to comply with new regulations or laws. If they won’t do so willingly, then they must be forced to do so. Lawmakers – especially lawmakers with children of their own – are waking up to the fact that young kids need face-to-face time with other kids, not more FaceTime.
There have been some positive examples of laws being passed, but more needs to be done. If lawmakers in Washington fail to act quickly, we might have a lost generation on our hands. At a time when many teenagers now aspire to be “influencers” when they graduate from high school, this is a troubling thought.
Of course, there’s no need to panic quite yet. We’ve seen this same story before, with different industries and different billion-dollar corporations. The one example that people like to point to is the auto industry. A generation ago, consumer advocates like Ralph Nader had to push hard, but cars are safer today than they have ever been, and roads are less dangerous. That might be the future of the social media industry, because right now social media is unsafe at any age.