How could a social media warning label impact Arizona children and teens?

Jun 18, 2024, 8:00 AM

Warning label on social media? Arizona experts respond to idea...

Many Arizona teens rely on social media to socialize with friends during the state's sizzling summers, one Valley ethics expert said. (File photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

(File photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The surgeon general of the U.S. wants a cigarette-style warning label on social media apps to alert users about potential health risks.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms and their effects on young people’s lives, similar to those now mandatory on cigarette boxes.

In a Monday op-ed for The New York Times, he said social media is a big contributor to the surge of mental health crises among American youths.

Kimberly McWilliams, the senior director of clinical excellence and children’s services at Phoenix-based Terros Health, agrees with his take.

“It’s a great first step,” McWilliams told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Tuesday.

Why Valley health expert supports potential warning label on social media

McWilliams said some of the content kids are exposed to on social media can contribute to eating disorders and self-harm.

“We’ve seen increases in depression, anxiety, reports of cyberbullying through these social media apps, the list goes on and on,” she said.

Warning labels are a great way to steer children and teens away from these health risks, she added.

“Look what happened with tobacco and the dramatic decrease we have. … I think I read an article that we’re down to about 12%,” McWilliams said. “It was 40[%] at one time.”

However, she said it can take a while for warning labels to sink into users’ minds and change their behaviors.

“It does work. It just takes time,” McWilliams said.

ASU ethics expert has another take on this potential label

However, one Valley ethics expert said social media can be a lifeline for Arizona youths who are trapped indoors by record-high heatwaves.

“Imagine you’re 12 years old living here in the Valley in the summer,” Sarah Florini, the associate director for ASU’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday. “You can’t walk anywhere and none of your friends live near you.”

Thus, taking away a young person’s access to social media could isolate them further, she said.

Florini acknowledged some of the data suggesting a link between these platforms and potential health risks, though.

“I understand why the surgeon general might be wanting to add this warning label,” Florini said. “But I also think that social media is probably not the main challenge that teens are facing in terms of their mental health.”

Teens face many troubles that can cause anxiety of depression, she added. Bullying in school, financial issues and family issues can also cause stress and fear in a young person.

Putting a warning label on social media likely wouldn’t ease young people’s mental health struggles, she said.

“I think it’s not going to have a whole lot of impact,” Florini said. “If anything, it might be a little bit damaging, because it might it might scare parents … into thinking all social media is bad.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Colton Krolak and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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How could a social media warning label impact Arizona children and teens?