Should social media carry warning labels? Physicians weigh in

Warning labels on social media sites could be a step toward improving children's mental health, physicians told Becker's. 

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, recently called for social media sites to display a warning that social media is "associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents." 

Willough Jenkins, MD, a psychiatrist at Rady Children's Hospital and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, told Becker's that warnings could encourage parents to limit the amount of time their children spend on social media. 

Decreasing time spent on social media is associated with better mental health outcomes, she said. 

"I think [a warning] will put more pressure on social media companies to be more transparent and really work to partner with us on issues related to children's mental health," Dr. Jenkins said. 

Most of the research around the link between social media and mental health is associated with screen time, but more data from social media sites could lead to better studies on how the platforms affect kids, Dr. Jenkins said. 

"[Screen time] is just one indicator," she said. "What type of platform are you using? What type of content are you viewing? What are your own personal demographics? All of these questions, we have a difficult time answering because we don't have a lot of the data, aside from self reports." 

Mitch Prinstein, PhD, chief science officer for the American Psychological Association, told The New York Times that research on time spent on social media and mental health has produced mixed results, adding that the type of content viewed on social media likely has a greater effect on mental health. 

In an op-ed published in the Times on June 18, Dr. Murthy wrote that wait for "perfect information" is detrimental when faced with an emergency. 

Dr. Prinstein told the newspaper June 19 that the surgeon general's call to action could empower parents feeling "helpless" in managing kids' social media use. 

"[Dr. Murthy's] giving some ammunition to everyone in this conversation to say, 'Look, I don't care how much my child may be upset with me, if the surgeon general says this might be harmful, I feel justified in taking away the device at 9 p.m,'" Dr. Prinstein said. 

Surgeon general warnings, which require congressional approval, have been effective in reducing use of substances with health risks. In 1965, Congress voted to require warning labels on every pack of cigarettes. The warning marked the beginning of a 50-year decline in smoking rates, according to The New York Times. 

Leopoldo Pozuelo, MD, center director of adult behavioral health at Cleveland Clinic, told Becker's the data on the harms associated with social media and mental health may not yet be as firm as the clear link between tobacco use and negative health outcomes. Still, a surgeon general's warning could spur more proactive research on the effects of new social media platforms, he said. 

"I think it's important to look at this as a moment of pause and reflection before drawing any firm conclusions one way or another," Dr. Pozuelo said. "The fact that the surgeon general is bringing this up, I think could be a catalyst." 

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars