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Pediatricians urge action to protect children from harms of social media

This June 16, 2017 photo shows social media app icons on a smartphone held by an Associated Press reporter in San Francisco. Google yourself.
Jeff Chiu
/
AP
This June 16, 2017 photo shows social media app icons on a smartphone held by an Associated Press reporter in San Francisco. Google yourself.

The surgeon general is taking the unusual step of warning about the mental health effects social media has on children. In a 19-page report issued Tuesday, Dr. Vivek Murthy is calling for urgent action among tech companies, parents, and policymakers to protect the health of children.

Dr. Deborah Hagler, immediate past president of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says a growing body of research is documenting the harms of social media. She's encouraging parents to consider how to introduce social media to kids and also be aware of current use.

"It's a great opportunity just to engage in conversation, because a lot of times, these things are just kind of rolling into children's lives without a lot of planning and forethought," she says.

Hagler recommends delaying access as long as possible, and suggests using flip phones instead of smart phones to be able to contact younger children.

"If you really need to have contact with a child with some sort of telephonic device, or device that can text, it doesn't mean you need to give them access to the web," she says. "So really thinking seriously about when they do need a smartphone, and when they do need that kind of access is the first thing I would suggest to parents."

She says tech companies should implement stronger safeguards to prevent kids from bypassing age limits, and policymakers should hold tech companies accountable and also fund research.