Lawmakers in Washington Taking Action to Address Growing Concerns Over Youth Social Media Use

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 3:24 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - As concerns mount in Washington over the impact of social media use on youth mental health, some lawmakers are taking action to begin to tackle what many say is a youth mental health crisis.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a 19-page advisory on Tuesday, warning that social media can proudly harm the mental health of children and called for safeguards from tech companies.

The Surgeon General wrote that, “there are ample indicators that that social media can have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”

“A lot of research shows that excessive social media use is related to higher levels of depression and anxiety, isolation, poor body image and self-esteem. And so the surgeon general’s warning, I think, is emphasizing these negative effects and really saying we need to do something about this,” said Danielle Virgadamo, a Clinical Psychologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

Virgadamo said that the warning came out just as the effects of social media use are becoming more and more evident in children that they are seeing.

“So as mental health providers, we’re seeing a lot more negative effects of children coming in and specifically parents mentioning social media as being an issue for kids and their families,” she said. “Parents are coming in really concerned with the types of content that the kids are looking at and also how much time they’re spending on social media.”

The White House announced this week that it is taking steps to protect youth mental health, including by leading an interagency Task Force on Kids Online Health & Safety to identify current and emerging risks of harm to minors associated with online platforms.

Several bills have also been introduced in Congress to address the crisis including the Protecting Young Minds Online Act that Congressman Bryan Steil (R-WI) introduced earlier this month with Congresswoman Becca Balint (D-VT).

“I came together in a bipartisan way, introduced legislation that said what we need is a national strategy, in particular for young kids in middle school, kids who are feeling the mental health challenges as relates to social media,” said Rep. Steil.

The bill requires that the Center for Mental Health Services come up with a strategy to address the effects of new technologies, like social media.

Steil said said the bill is not the complete solution but emphasized that it will bring together a team of experts to start address the issue.

“This is a real opportunity to take a step back, recognize that social media is prevalent throughout all kids educational years and say, how do we put safeguards, put some guardrails in place to really help children who are experiencing depression or other negative thoughts as it relates to social media,” he said.

Other bills that have been introduced in Congress to address youth social media use concerns include the Clean Slate for Kids Online Act, the Kids Online Safety Act and Protecting Kids on Social Media Act.