Social Media

What Psychologists Recommend Parents Do Amid ‘Health Advisory' for Kids' Social Media Use

The findings come at a time when there is increasing appetite in Congress for regulating social media companies

The American Psychological Association on Tuesday issued a "health advisory" over social media use in kids and teens as experts released a list of recommendations for parents navigating screen time.

“Social media is neither inherently harmful nor beneficial to our youth,” APA President Dr. Thema Bryant said in a statement. “But because young people mature at different rates, some are more vulnerable than others to the content and features on many social media platforms that science has demonstrated can influence healthy development. Just as we require young people to be trained in order to get a driver’s license, our youth need instruction in the safe and healthy use of social media.”

In its report, the APA advisory panel released 10 recommendations for "the use of social media by adolescents," adding that while some platforms are good for promoting "healthy socialization, their use should be preceded by training."

"Youth are assaulted daily by violence, bullying and really unhealthy experiences through media that we may not even know they’re seeing," said NAMI Chicago CEO Alexa James, a licensed clinical social worker whose company offers mental health support services.

"We know the human brain continues to develop until the age of 25," said Dr. Danesh Alam, medical director of behavioral health services at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. "These are critical years where we can have a positive impact through the strategies recommended in the report."

The findings come at a time when there is increasing appetite in Congress for regulating social media companies.

Newly-introduced legislation aims to prohibit all children under the age of 13 from using social media and require permission from a guardian for users under 18 to create an account. And that is just one of several proposals in Congress seeking to make the internet safer for children and teens.

"They could really build social media literacy right into the platform and teach kids how to use their product safely," Mitch Prinstein, chief science order with the APA, told NBC Chicago.

Still, any legislation proposing to regulate technology and social media companies faces major challenges, and not only because of the companies’ deep pockets. While the European Union has enacted much stricter privacy and safety protections online, Congress has so far been unable to agree on a way to regulate the behemoth industry. Past legislation has failed amid disagreements about overregulation and civil liberties.

And experts with the APA note that even their recommendations are not a one-size-fits-all.

"Scientific findings offer one piece of information that can be used along with knowledge of specific youths’ strengths, weaknesses and context to make decisions that are tailored for each teen, family and community,” the report states. “Age-appropriate use of social media should be based on each adolescent’s level of maturity (e.g., self-regulation skills, intellectual development, comprehension of risks, and home environment).”

The recommendations include things like adult monitoring, particularly for specific age groups, limiting screen time, particularly for certain hours of the day, and providing training for those who plan to use social media.

“We hope these recommendations will be helpful as we all try to keep pace with the rapidly shifting social media ecosystem,” APA CEO Dr. Arthur C. Evans Jr. said in a statement. “APA will continue to keep tabs on developments within the current and future platforms, with an eye toward safeguarding our youth and enabling them to benefit from the positive aspects of social media.”

Here's the full list of recommendations:

1. Youth using social media should be encouraged to use functions promote healthy socialization
2. Social media use should be tailored to youths’ developmental capabilities
3. In early adolescence (i.e., typically 10-14 years), adult monitoring is advised for most youths’ social media use 
4. Adolescents’ exposure to content on social media that depicts illegal or psychologically maladaptive behavior, including content that instructs or encourages self-harm, harm to others, or eating disordered behavior should be minimized, reported, and removed 
5. Adolescents’ exposure to “cyberhate” should be minimized 
6. Adolescents should be routinely screened for signs of “problematic social media use”
7. Social media use should be limited to not interfere with sleep and physical activity
8. Adolescents should limit use of social media for social comparison, particularly around beauty- or appearance-related content
9. Adolescents’ social media use should be preceded by training in social media literacy
10. Substantial resources should be provided for continued scientific examination of the positive and negative effects of social media on adolescent development

For more details on the report, click here.

NAMI Chicago also offers free help for parents seeking guidance for their children from mental health professionals. Those interested can call (833) NAMI-CHI.

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