Navigating the Social Media Landscape: Could Warning Labels Help Protect Kids?

Boy on PhoneAs a pediatrician, author, speaker, and youth advocate, I’ve been closely following the ongoing debate around social media’s potential benefits and risks for young people. With technology and social media platforms evolving rapidly, parents face increasing challenges in navigating this digital landscape and its impacts on their children’s well-being.

There are certainly some clear upsides to social media. Platforms can help families and friends stay connected across geographical distances. They can also provide valuable support networks, especially for marginalized communities or those facing chronic health issues. Social media can be a gateway to new ideas, educational resources, and helpful habits around mindfulness, exercise, and healthy eating.

At the same time, there are significant risks associated with social media usage, especially for children and adolescents. The algorithmic design of many apps, with features like infinite scrolling and autoplay, is intentionally engineered to keep users, including young users, glued to their screens for extended periods. This can expose children to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, scams, and harmful social comparisons that negatively impact their self-esteem and mental health.

As Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy stated in his New York Times op-ed, “The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor.” Warning labels could be a critical tool to help parents make more informed decisions about when their children are ready to use social media and to prompt meaningful conversations about using technology safely.

Warnings from the Surgeon General could give parents the backing to set clear parameters around social media usage in their households. It may also spur Congress to enact new legislation that mandates stronger safety measures and design guidelines for these platforms.

Of course, creating a truly safe digital space for young people will take a village. Every child is unique in their maturity, personality, and how they navigate both the physical and online worlds. Parents need to stay closely connected to their children, understand their needs, and guide them toward content supporting their well-being.

Communication is key. Sit down as a family to create a media plan that evolves as kids get older, and be sure to model the behaviors you want to see – for example, putting down your phone at mealtimes. The AAP’s Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health has excellent resources to help parents in this effort.

Warning labels alone are not a magic fix, but they can be one valuable piece of the broader effort as we work to give parents the information and resources they need to protect their children in the digital age. Our kids’ well-being should be our top priority, and we owe it to them to pursue a wide-ranging approach.


The AAP’s Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health

Q and A Portal for Parents on Social Media and Youth Mental Health

AAP Family Media Plan

Family Tip Sheet-Building Healthy Digital Habits

Common Sense Media