Surgeon General Warns Against Social Media Use for Teenagers


United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that 13-years old is “too early” to join social media. (Graphic by Zoe MacDiarmid)

On January 29th, on CNN Newsroom, United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that 13-years old is “too early” to join social media.

This warning comes during a time when teenagers are using their phones more than ever. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, surveys show that ninety percent of teens ages 13-17 have used social media. Seventy five percent report having at least one active social media profile, and 51 percent report visiting a social media site at least daily.

At Wilde Lake, many students report getting phones as young as elementary school. Blessing Gross, a junior, got her first phone — a flip phone — when she was five years old. By eight years old, she had an Instagram account. 

“As a child, I was told a lot that I should enjoy being a child, which made me only wanna grow older and be an adult to understand why they said that stuff,” said Blessing. 

Sophomore Jiselle White began using social media when she was around ten years old. From a young age, she said social media pushed her to want to be grown up. 

“I felt like I had to change everything about me to be more feminine, more grown up, older. And I think I just grew into being older,” said Jiselle. 

This is a relatable experience for many young people across the United States. The amount of children aged 13-17 years old on social media rose 17 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to Common Sense Media data from 2022. 

Dr. Murthy gave two main reasons as to why he believes children 13 and younger should wait to get social media. 

First, he says that having social media may impair a young person’s ability to develop their own identity. “It’s a time where it’s really important for us to be thoughtful for what’s going into their own self worth,” said Dr. Murthy on CNN Newsroom.

His second main concern was that policies regarding age limits on social media are inconsistently enforced. In addition, social media is hard for teenagers to limit their time on.

Research in the Journal published by the American Medical Association shows that frequent use of social media affects the way our brains develop. Today’s teenagers as a result feel the need for more stimulation, and therefore have shorter attention spans, which makes it harder for them to perform in school and form meaningful relationships. 

What some teachers see is students struggling to function, socially and academically. 

Harpers’ Choice Middle School Social Studies teacher Madi Aman says that most of the students she teaches have social media. Ms. Aman says that as a result of having social media at a young age, many students believe that they are “more mature than they are, even more so than what’s normal for the age group.”

“I think something that concerns me is the level of disconnect,” said English teacher Ms. Kostelec. “But I also try to ask myself as a teacher: what is the root cause of that disconnect? I think the phone can be a security blanket for if you feel disengaged because you’re confused or maybe you’re just struggling with something else. I think it can be comforting to people to have that escape.” 

Additionally, Ms. Aman says that her students’ attention spans and academic stamina are “very short.”

“A lot of what we’ve been talking about is that apathy is a huge, huge problem,” said Ms. Aman. “If it’s not something that they’re personally interested in, they just don’t care, and they don’t want to listen. They don’t want to try or do work.” 

UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health says that social media not only creates harmful situations for users but it also disrupts activities like sleeping and exercising that are positive for mental health. 

The future of social media is in the hands of legislation, Dr. Murthy told CNN. “None of this is out of our control. When we had dangerous vehicles on the road, we passed laws to make those vehicles less dangerous,” he said. “We should make decisions to make [social media] a healthier experience that would make kids feel better about themselves and less alone.”

This article was originally published in print in March 2023.