(Washington) Social media can have “extremely harmful effects” on the mental health of children and adolescents, warns the chief medical officer of the United States, calling on tech giants to act, in a report published on Tuesday.

“We are going through a national youth mental health crisis, and I fear that social media is a significant driver of this crisis – something we need to address urgently,” warns Vivek Murthy in a statement accompanying this document.

More research is needed to “better understand the effects of social media” on young people, but “there is plenty of evidence” that it can have negative consequences, he says in a 19-page report.

For example, studies have established a link between the use of social networks and the appearance of depressive symptoms. By pushing teenagers to compare themselves, these platforms can weaken their self-esteem, according to Vivek Murthy.

Young girls could be even more vulnerable. The use of these platforms exposes them more than boys to cyberbullying or even to the development of eating disorders, according to research cited by Vivek Murthy.

All young people can also be exposed to “dangerous” content, showing for example violent or sexual acts, insists the chief medical officer.

Tech companies should enforce a “minimum age” for kids to join their social networks, and create default settings that better protect their privacy, he says.

Up to 95% of young Americans aged 13 to 17 say they use a social network, with a third of them using it “almost constantly”, according to the Pew Research Center.

Social networks, and particularly their effects on the youngest, are a source of concern in the United States.

Montana enacted legislation last week to ban the TikTok app next year, becoming the first US state to take such a step.

In addition to the issue of data and misinformation, local elected officials criticized the platform for its harmful effects on the mental health of the youngest. Even if Democratic representatives had retorted that these risks also concerned other social networks.

In March, Utah passed a law requiring social networks to obtain parental consent before granting minors access to their platforms.