American psychology group issues recommendations for kids’ social media use


One of the best-known mental health organizations in the US is publishing guidelines designed to protect children from the potential harms of social media.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has published its first book Health advice on social media Use Tuesday to address growing concerns about how social networks designed for adults can negatively impact youth.

The report does not denounce social media, instead claiming that online social networks are “not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people” but should be used with caution. Health advice also does not deal with specific social platforms, but addresses a wide range of concerns surrounding children’s online lives with sound advice and insights compiled from broader research.

The APA’s recommendations focus on the role of parents, but the statement denounces algorithms that push young users towards potentially harmful content, including posts that promote self-harm, eating disorders, racism and other forms of online hate.

Other recommendations deal with children’s habits and routines, which are largely reserved for adult caregivers. The APA recommends regular screening for “problematic social media use” among children. Red flags include behaviors associated with symptoms of a more traditional addiction, including spending more time on social media than intended and lying to maintain access to social media sites.

With that in mind, the APA recommends parents remain vigilant to prevent social media from disrupting sleep patterns and physical activity — two areas that directly and seriously impact children’s mental health. “Inadequate sleep is associated with disorders of neurodevelopmental brain development in adolescents, emotional functioning in teenagers, and a risk of suicide,” the recommendation reads.

Some of the recommendations aren’t particularly easy to navigate in today’s social media landscape, even for adults. Part of the health advisory recommends limiting the time young users spend comparing themselves to other people on social media apps, “particularly in relation to content related to beauty or looks.”

“Research suggests that the use of social media for social comparisons related to physical appearance, as well as excessive attention and behavior related to one’s photos and feedback on those photos, are associated with poorer body image, eating disorders, and depressive symptoms, particularly in girls “, quotes the APA in detail Research.

The APA emphasizes that offline experiences also influence social media outcomes, and these vary greatly from child to child.

“In most cases, the impact of social media depends on the personal and psychological characteristics and social circumstances of the young person – and overlaps with the specific content, characteristics or functionality offered on many social media platforms,” ​​the APA wrote . “In other words, the impact of social media is likely to depend on what teens can do and see online, on teens’ pre-existing strengths or weaknesses, and on the contexts in which they are growing 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 like buttons and endless scrolling. These features, as well as advertising targeting users under the age of 18, have come under increasing criticism from regulators who want to protect children from being manipulated by features designed to influence adult behavior.

The APA recommends an appropriate, age-appropriate level of “adult monitoring” through parental controls at the device and app levels, and urges parents to manage their own healthy social media relationships.

“Science shows that adults (e.g., caregivers) orientation and attitudes toward social media (e.g., use when interacting with their children, distraction from face-to-face interactions through social media use) influences their own use of social media can affect young people. “, writes the APA.

A final piece of advice would be one that most adults would also benefit from: fostering digital literacy on a range of social media topics, including how to spot misinformation tactics and how to resolve conflicts that arise on social platforms.

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