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Age 13 and younger is ‘too early’ for kids to be on social media, surgeon general admits

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently warned that age 13 and younger is too early for America’s kids to be using social media platforms — despite this being the minimum age to join many of these popular sites, such as Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram. 

Said Murthy last week about children using social media, “I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early.”

He went on, “It’s a time when it’s really important for us to be thoughtful about what’s going into how they think about their own self-worth and their relationships — and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children,” he added.


Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., among others, has argued there’s a need for legislation to create a legal age for children to be allowed on social media. He’s said that tech companies have engaged in harmful practices that put profits over “protecting kids.”

Sen. Hawley has long been a critic of social media platforms and tech companies in general, repeatedly calling for an all-out ban on the Chinese-owned app TikTok. 

Hawley proposed enforcing a minimum age for social media use at 16 — and requiring social media companies to verify the ages of their users.

“For me, this is about protecting kids, protecting their mental health, protecting their safety,” Hawley told NBC News this week in an interview. “There’s ample evidence to this effect that big tech companies put their profits ahead of protecting kids online.”

While many parents would agree with both Murthy and Hawley, some experts actually recommend that empowering children with skills to use social media appropriately may be a more effective tool than trying to shield them from it, based on arbitrary rules of age. 

“Social media in and of itself is a tool for gathering information,” Dr. Lama Bazzi, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City, told Fox News Digital. 


“Blanket statements, such as this one stating that children under the age of 14 should not have access to social media, are not effective tools for changing behavior,” she insisted.

“We must give our children the tools they need to navigate the world safely,” she said, “not prevent them from being exposed to it altogether.”

One parent and grandparent in New York, however, argued that parents must protect their young children from social media platforms that allow them access to an array of potential dangers — and that their brains are still developing. 

“This is about protecting kids — which is the parents’ primary job,” he told Fox News Digital. “We all know the dangers that are out there on social media. In my opinion, kids in middle school and very young teenagers should not be on these platforms, period.”

Excessive screen time is also an issue for parents to be aware of and knowledgeable about — here is more information and input.

Research suggests that young adolescent children are using popular social media platforms when they are at the most impressionable times of brain development

“Excessive screen time is linked to emotional, behavioral and attention problems in children,” Bazzi noted.

“Ultimately, children are still forming their identities and are easily influenced by peer pressure and social pressure — and social media is an ideal platform for advertisers to shape the consumers of the future.”

A recent study in JAMA Pediatrics found that for those as young as age 12, repeatedly checking social media devices actually led to changes in brain development over a three-year period.

Bazzi said, however, that “children will spend time online, regardless of their age.”

In her opinion, “the goal is to raise kids who are independent thinkers and who are able to consume information responsibly, analyze it effectively and assimilate what serves them while leaving behind negative and potentially destructive messaging.”

“Most social media companies have a minimum age requirement of 13 years old, which does not require parental approval or verification and can be easily bypassed by entering a false birthdate,” Donnell Probst, deputy director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education located in New York, told Fox News Digital.

Murthy, the surgeon general, also expressed concern that social media platforms don’t have consistent rules regarding minimum age limits to protect young children.


Probst, who is based in St. Louis, Missouri, recommended, however, not asking how parents should enforce this recommendation “but whether they should enforce it.”

“Revoking access to social media alone,” Probst said, “will not solve the challenges brought forth by the surgeon general.”

She noted these issues are not unique to children — and highlighted the “recent uptick in violence and conspiratorial behavior by adults that social media has fueled.”

Approximately 38% of children between the ages 8 to 12 and 84% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 are using social media, according to The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2021.

Children in the age range of 8-12 years old are on social media for an average of 18 minutes per day, the report from 2021 found (the most recent one available), while teenagers spend about an hour-and-a-half every day. 

The tweens’ usage increased by five percentage points during the COVID-19 pandemic among those who said they use social media every day, whereas the proportion of teenagers who used social media every day stayed approximately the same.

In 1998, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The legislation “generally requires operators of websites or online services that are directed to children under 13, as well as operators with actual knowledge they are collecting personal information from children under 13, to notify parents and obtain their verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information,” a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) spokesperson told Fox News Digital.


Although COPPA, which the FTC revised in 2012, is intended for online privacy of young children, experts note that social media platforms use the law as the basis to allow 13-year-olds to use their sites. 

As debates continue about the ideal age for kids to start using social media, an FTC spokesperson told Fox News Digital, “We are still in the process of reviewing the [COPPA] rule.”

One expert believes that “we should ask, ‘How can we better equip children and teens to navigate how the information they encounter online makes them think, feel, and act?’” That’s according to Probst of the National Association for Media Literacy Education.

“The answer is simple: We need to provide media literacy education that empowers children with the tools and skills to be responsible content creators and healthy content consumers.”

School districts in Illinois must now provide lessons in media literary for all high school students, according to Education Week, a news organization that covers K-12 news. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed legislation that requires media literacy education in public schools to all students in the Garden State. 

“Empowering children with these skills will supersede new technologies and techniques and prepare them for the quickly evolving media landscape with which terms of service, legislation and research cannot keep pace,” Probst added.


“It is important for [parents] to engage children in conversation, creative play, and other activities that promote curiosity, cognitive flexibility and enhance interpersonal connection and resilience,” Bazzi said.

She recommends that parents spend quality time with their children with activities “that promote self-esteem and resilience such as hiking, playing boardgames, completing puzzles, or engaging in team activities ensures that your children gain a sense of self.”

This will help make them less vulnerable to the negative effects of social media, she noted.

Anders Hagstrom of Fox News Digital contributing reporting.

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