One of the most prominent mental health organizations in the US has released a set of guidelines designed to protect children from the potential harms of social media.
The American Psychological Association (APA) issued its first health notice on social media use Tuesday, which addresses growing concerns about how social media designed for adults can negatively affect teens.
The report does not denounce social media, instead stating that online social media “is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people” but should be used with care. The health advisory also does not address specific social platforms, but instead addresses a broad set of concerns about children’s lives online with common-sense advice and insights gleaned from broader research.
The APA’s recommendations focus on the role of parents, but the advisory denounces algorithms that push young users toward potentially harmful content, including posts that promote self-harm, disordered eating, racism and other forms of hate. online.
Other recommendations address children’s habits and routines, largely the domain of the adults who care for them. The APA encourages regular screening for “problem social media use” in children. Red flags include behaviors that follow symptoms of more traditional addictions, such as spending more time on social media than intended and lying to maintain access to social media.
In the same way, the APA recommends that parents remain vigilant to prevent social networks from interrupting sleep routines and physical activity, two areas that directly and seriously affect children’s mental health. “Sleep deprivation is associated with neurodevelopmental disturbances in the adolescent brain, adolescent emotional functioning, and risk of suicide,” the advisory states.
Some of the recommendations aren’t particularly easy to navigate in today’s social media landscape, even for adults. One part of the health advisory advises limiting the time young users spend comparing themselves to others on social media apps, “particularly around content related to beauty or appearance.”
“Research suggests that the use of social media for social comparisons related to physical appearance, as well as excessive attention and behaviors related to one’s own photos and comments on those photos, are related to poorer body image, eating disorders and depressive symptoms, particularly among girls,” states the APA, citing extensive investigation.
The APA emphasizes that social media outcomes are also shaped by offline experiences, and that they vary greatly from child to child.
“In most cases, the effects of social media depend on the personal and psychological characteristics and social circumstances of adolescents, which intersect with the specific content, features or functions offered on many social media platforms. social,” the APA wrote. “In other words, the effects of social media are likely to depend on what teens can do and see online, teens’ pre-existing strengths or vulnerabilities, and the contexts in which they grow up.”
The organization also warns parents and platforms about design features intended for adults that younger users may be more susceptible to, including algorithmic recommendations such as buttons and endless scrolling. These features, along with advertising served to users under the age of 18, have come under increasing criticism from regulators seeking to protect children from being manipulated by features designed to shape adult behavior.
The APA recommends a reasonable and age-appropriate degree of “adult supervision” through parental controls at the device and app level and urges parents to model their own healthy relationships with social media.
“Science shows that the orientation and attitudes of adults (eg, caregivers) toward social media (eg, using during interactions with their children, being distracted from in-person interactions by using social media) may affect teens’ own use of social media. ”, writes the APA.
One last bit of advice is one most adults would also benefit from: boosting digital literacy on a number of social media topics, including how to recognize disinformation tactics and how to resolve conflicts that originate on social platforms.