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White House takes new steps for kids' mental health and online safety

The Biden administration is mobilizing agencies across its cabinet to better understand an unprecedented mental health crisis among young people.
White House takes new steps for kids' mental health and online safety
Posted at 4:51 AM, May 23, 2023

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced new steps to protect the privacy, safety and mental health of children online.

The updated policies coincided with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issuing an advisory about the effects social media has on youth mental health. In his advisory, Murthy called on policymakers, technology companies, researchers, families and young people to take "urgent action." 

"The most common question parents ask me is, 'Is social media safe for my kids?'The answer is that we don't have enough evidence to say it's safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people's mental health," said Murthy. "Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content, to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use is compromising their sleep and valuable in-person time with family and friends."

Murthy noted research showing more than three hours of social media use per day doubles the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes among adolescents. 

The Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Commerce Department, will start a task force that looks closely at how online platforms affect kids' mental health.

The task force will try to understand current health challenges that may result from technology as well as newly emerging ones, and will develop guidelines for tracking and preventing the harm children face.

The Department of Education will lead a group that develops policies and best practices for using internet devices like smartphones in schools. The administration wants it to promote pathways to "safe, healthy, and developmentally-appropriate digital literacy skills and habits for P-12 students."

The Commerce Department will take steps to prevent online abuse and harassment of minors, and the Department of Homeland Security will increase its efforts to identify victims of online abuse and investigate cases involving child pornography. These efforts are expected to supplement the recently launched Take It Down platform, where users can report cases of explicit material involving minors.

SEE MORE: TikTok adds a new feature to support mental well-being

The broad new steps are a response to an unprecedented mental health crisis among America's young people.

A report at the end of 2022 found 1 in 5 children have a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder and aren't getting the help they need, and 60% of children with depression don't get any mental health treatment.

The surgeon general laid out in 2021 the mounting evidence that time spent on social media can often contribute to mental health challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic brought more pressure, particularly on those who were already vulnerable.

At the same time, however, understanding the exact extent to which the internet and social media contribute to mental health challenges will require more study.

The Biden administration says the findings of its new panels and initiatives will help inform the research agenda.

SEE MORE: White House announces new funding for US mental health crisis

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