Similar to the US Surgeon General’s advisory on pediatric mental health, the American Psychological Association has issued an advisory specific to social media use in children and teens. The potential risk of harm appears to be highest in young adolescents, approximately 10-14 years of age, as this is a period of significant developmental transition. A summary of the recommendations is as follows:
Encourage engagement in primarily content that promotes healthy social interaction. In this context, social media can be beneficial, especially for socially or geographically isolated adolescents.
Settings and permissions should correspond to the developmental level of the user in order to limit younger adolescents from exposure to potentially damaging or age-inappropriate content.
Monitor for content that depicts illegal or dangerous behaviors as well as content that encourages or displays discrimination or bullying of specific people or groups.
Routinely screen for problematic use. Some indications of problematic use include:
- Excessive effort to ensure continued access to social media
- Strong desire to use or disruption of other activities due to desire to use social media
- Lying or other deceptive behavior in order to retain access
- Loss or disruption of significant relationships or educational opportunities due to use
Limit use so as not to interfere with sleep and physical activity. Use of technology within 1 hour of bedtime, and social media use in particular, is associated with increased sleep disruptions. Insufficient sleep is associated with disruptions to neurological development, emotional functioning, and increased suicide risk. Decreased physical activity is associated with an increased rate of depressive symptoms.
Limit content that focuses primarily on physical comparisons. Research indicates that excessive attention to and behavior related to one’s own photos and feedback on those photos is linked to disordered eating, depressive symptoms, and decreased satisfaction with one’s appearance, especially in girls and young women.
Preliminary research shows support for the efficacy of training in social media literacy with courses such as Digital Citizenship & Digital Literacy. Curriculum can include how to safely communicate online, especially in regard to mental health, how to handle conflict and bullying, and signs of problematic use.
The Surgeon General and APA have both emphasized that there is need for additional research regarding the long-term effects of social media use in children and adolescents.
Lindsey Hiatt, PA-C
Saint Sophie’s Psychiatric Center