(The Hill) — Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is issuing an advisory that social media use may be harmful to the mental health of young people, citing growing evidence that online content is hurting the development of the nation’s youth.

“I’m issuing this advisory because we’re in the middle of a youth mental health crisis, and I’m concerned that social media is contributing to the harms that kids are experiencing,” Murthy told The Hill.

Murthy specifically pointed to the possibility of a link between time spent on social media and depression and anxiety.

He cited one 2019 study that found adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 who spent more than three hours on social media daily had double the risk of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Teenagers on average spend 3 1/2 hours on social media every day, according to data cited in the advisory.

The advisory acknowledged that social media can provide some benefits to young people.

It noted that a majority of young girls of color say they regularly see “positive and identity-affirming content” online.

Social media also provides avenues for connection for people who may otherwise feel isolated, such as people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community.

The surgeon general stressed that the onus for managing healthy social media use was not entirely on parents.

“It’s an unreasonable expectation because prior generations never had to experience and manage the rapidly evolving technology that fundamentally changed how kids thought about themselves, how they thought about their friendships and how they saw the world,” said Murthy.

He said that companies must play a part in ensuring social media does not harm kids. Murthy called on higher transparency from tech companies, noting that independent researchers have told his office that tech giants have not provided the full data needed to make a complete assessment of the risk for harm.

Murthy also urged lawmakers to implement policies to keep kids safer online. In Pennsylvania, two state lawmakers have already taken action.

“We’re not going to wait around for the federal government to act,” Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York County) said.

Phillips-Hill the surgeon general’s advisory did not come as a surprise.

“I have continued to hear these challenges from parents, parents who’ve lost their children to suicide,” she said.

According to Murthy’s advisory, more than 90 percent of teenagers between 13 and 17 have a social media account, but nearly half say social media makes them feel worse. Murthy’s advisory also pointed out studies which show excessive social media use can lead to depression and eating disorders.

“You can never get away from it. That phone is with children all the time,” Phillips-Hill said of the prevalence of social media.

The York County Republican is already working on a solution, teaming up with Philadelphia Democrat Sen. Vincent Hughes. Their bill would require parental permission for anyone under 16 to create a social media account and would also give parents more control over their kids’ online presence.

“Parents need to be empowered to protect their kids,” Phillips-Hill said.

UPMC psychologist Melissa Brown said in her practice, she has seen social media’s impact on teenagers’ mental health, with depression and anxiety being the two most common issues. She said parents need to be involved.

“We have to find ways and guidelines on how we can help systematically teach our young people how to use this,” she said. “If we expect teens to not always be on social media, we need to show them that we’re not always on social media as well.”

Both she and Phillips-Hill agree social media can be a positive tool.

“Mny of the platforms that kids can access today, they’re great. They’re educational, they’re very helpful, but we also know that that there is a dark side to this,” Phillips-Hill said.

The issue is not going anwyhere.

“It’s kind of Pandora’s Box, you know, it’s now been opened and we can’t put it back in,” Brown said.

Because of that, Phillips-Hill says the time to act is now.

“It’s too important to not address it,” she said.

Surgeon General Murthy has routinely spoken about the potential harm social media use has on children.

Earlier this year, Murthy said on CNN that he believed 13 was too young for children to be on social media, an age when most platforms allow people to join.

In an advisory issued in 2021, Murthy noted how the COVID-19 pandemic “rapidly accelerated” how much of people’s lives play out on social media. His advisory at the time emphasized that social media companies are concerned with maximizing engagement and not “safeguarding users’ health.”

As far as the federal government’s role in improving how social media use impacts children, Murthy said establishing “age-appropriate health and safety standards” could be one such avenue, pointing out that standards are established for many products that children use like car seats and toys.

Murthy recommended that parents and caretakers establish a family media plan that lays out expectations regarding social media use, create tech-free zones, model responsible online behavior themselves, and works with other parents to establish shared norms and practices.

The advisory encouraged children to reach out for help if social media is negatively affecting them, limit the use of electronics at least an hour before bed and be selective about what personal information they share online.

Children are also advised to be protective of themselves by tracking how much time they spend online; blocking unwanted contacts and content, and avoiding keeping online harassment a secret.