APA Proposes Teen Social Media Guidelines

Girl watching a social media live stream. | Image by Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

The American Psychological Association (APA) released an unprecedented set of recommendations for guiding adolescents’ use of social media this Tuesday.

On May 9, the APA published a report and guidelines based on research by psychological scientists into the effects of social media on teenagers.

Many have long questioned the impact of social media on the well-being and development of teens. They are these platforms’ majority users after all, according to the Pew Research Center.

Furthermore, this generation suffered a significant blow to their mental health caused by the isolating shutdowns imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained, high school girls were impacted most.

A survey in 2021 found that 60% of female high school respondents felt persistent feelings of anxiety and depression and 30% had seriously considered killing themselves, which was double the share among male high school respondents.

“There’s no question young people are telling us they are in crisis,” Kathleen Ethier, who directs the CDC division on adolescent and school health, said about the findings, according to AP News. “The data really call on us to act.”

Indeed, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy noted in 2021 that screen time among adolescents doubled during the lockdowns. The digital spaces in which they have invested so much of their time tend to be profit-driven and thus centered on maximizing screen time rather than safeguarding teens’ interests.

Lawmakers and federal regulators have struggled to effectively gain oversight over the tech companies developing products for children and teens alike, according to WFAA. Several bipartisan bills have been introduced to regulate online spaces but have yet to pass.

As The Dallas Express reported, the maker behind the popular game Fortnite was forced to pay a $245 million settlement in a lawsuit claiming damages for violations that included the collection of data on users under age 13 without parental consent.

With these concerns and more in mind, the APA drafted its first-ever guidelines to help families, teachers, healthcare professionals, and policymakers alike better navigate adolescents’ use of social media.

Encourage beneficial social media use

The APA acknowledged that social media has a valuable function as a tool of socialization when used in a healthy way.

Its findings suggest that being able to turn to online social interaction for support and emotional intimacy during moments of stress or loneliness can be beneficial.

This is especially true of teens who do not have many offline relationships or support networks. Yet these are also the types of teens most at risk of experiencing the dark side of social media.

Monitor for problematic social media use

The APA recommends regularly checking for indications that a teen is using social media in an unhealthy way.

Some indicators given include:

  • losing relationships or missing out on opportunities due to social media use
  • spending immense effort or deceptive behavior to maintain constant access to social media
  • experiencing regular disruptions to other activities due to social media
  • spending more time on social media than intended

Teach digital literacy

The APA notes that tweens and teens have different monitoring requirements when it comes to social media. As such, it advises balancing surveillance with their needs for privacy as appropriate.

Between the ages of 10 and 14, youths’ brains are more sensitive to feedback from their peers. They might crave their attention more as well as their approval.

Due to this, the APA strongly recommends regularly coaching these tweens on how to correctly engage with social media.

Useful discussions to have include:

  • questioning the accuracy of social media content, including the manipulation of images
  • solving conflicts that might arise on social media platforms
  • refraining from frequent comparisons with others online

Since research has shown that caregivers’ own attitudes and engagements with social media influence those of teens, parents are encouraged to monitor their own use as well.

Ensure that sleep and physical activity isn’t affected

Due to the long screen-time sessions that are typical of teenagers, the APA recommends taking steps to ensure that they continue to regularly get enough sleep and exercise.

Teens need a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night. Losing just an hour of sleep or not maintaining regular sleep-wake schedules can significantly impact both an individual’s overall well-being, as The Dallas Express reported.

The APA suggests no more screens one hour before bed.

The use of social media should also not interfere with physical activity. Regular exercise is directly connected to physical and psychological health, according to the APA.

Another benefit of regular exercise is maintaining a healthy weight.

As The Dallas Express reported, young Americans are at a greater risk than ever of obesity and all the negative health outcomes associated with it. For instance, one study from 2017 projected that 57% of today’s children would be obese by the time they reach 35 years of age.

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