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Adolescent Social Media Use: APA shares Science Backed Best Tips for Parents

The American Psychological Association has released a new guideline on Adolescent use of Social Media. As social media becomes an increasingly integral aspect of teenage life, it is crucial to understand the implications of its use on their psychological well-being. The Guideline for the Use of social media by Teens, released in May 2023, emphasize the importance of adult monitoring and coaching, especially during early adolescence when teens are still developing their understanding of social media functionality.
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Build Social Connection

Empower youth to use social media to foster positive relationships, create a network of supportive friends and cultivate emotional closeness. By using it the right way, they can enrich their social lives and experience healthy socialization. Let’s inspire our young generation to harness the potential of social media to build meaningful connections and spread positivity in the digital world.

The Effect of Social Media Features on Youth 

As we strive to create a better world for our youth, we must consider their unique developmental capabilities when it comes to social media use. The designs and features created for adults may not be appropriate for children, and it is our responsibility to tailor them accordingly. For example, specific functionalities, such as the “like” button and endless scrolling, can affect teenagers. By raising their understanding we can empower our youth to navigate the digital world with confidence and understanding. Thereby inspiring a generation of responsible and informed social media users. 

Digital Footprint 

As parents and caregivers, remind adolescents explicitly and repeatedly, in age-appropriate ways, about how their behaviours on social media leads to a digital footprint. And may result in data collection, storage, and sharing with others for various purposes. Everything they do online feeds more of the same type of content being shared by the platforms and also forms a digital footprint of their tastes, behaviours and habits.

Teen Brains in the Early years still developing

During the transformative early adolescent years, it is recommended that adults provide guidance and support for young people’s social media use by monitoring, discussing, and coaching them on their content. As they gain digital literacy skills, they may gradually earn more autonomy. However, in doing so, we must balance this monitoring with their need for privacy. At this age, brain regions associated with seeking attention, feedback, and validation from peers become increasingly sensitive. Meanwhile, the regions that are linked to mature self-control don’t fully develop until adulthood.

Parents’ Use of Social Media 

It is crucial that we, as adults, role model healthy social media habits in the presence of our youth. Research indicates that parents’ and caregivers’ attitudes and behaviours towards social media can significantly impact the way adolescents use it. Let us strive to be mindful and present during in-person interactions, setting boundaries and engaging in open discussions with our children about responsible social media use. Let us pave the way for a future where social media is used as a tool for connection and growth, rather than a source of distraction and negativity.

Minimize Access to Inappropriate Content

To safeguard the mental well-being of adolescents, it is imperative to curtail their access to social media content that depicts illegal or psychologically harmful behaviour. This includes content that instructs or encourages young people to engage in health-risk behaviours such as self-harm, harm to others, or eating disorders. Minimizing, reporting, and removing such content from social media platforms is crucial.
Research has shown that exposure to maladaptive behaviour on social media can promote similar behaviour among impressionable youth. The online social reinforcement of these behaviours is linked to an increased risk of serious psychological symptoms, even after controlling for offline influences. Therefore, it is important to take steps to mitigate this risk and promote a safe and healthy online environment for young people.

Cyberhate and CyberBullying Have Damaging Effects

Minimizing the exposure of adolescents to cyberhate is crucial, particularly when it involves discrimination, prejudice, hate, or cyberbullying targeted at marginalized groups such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, and ability status. Studies have shown that being exposed to online hate and discrimination can lead to increased anxiety and depressive symptoms among young people. In comparison to traditional bullying, online harassment can be more severe and detrimental to the psychological development of adolescents.
It is essential to educate young people on how to identify online structural racism and critically evaluate racist messages. Research has also indicated that adolescents who are capable of analyzing racism are less likely to experience psychological distress when they witness traumatic race-related events online. Furthermore, parents and guardians can play a vital role in minimizing the effects of cyberhate on adolescents by monitoring their online activity and actively discussing the content with them.

Regular Screening of Problematic Use

Regular screening for signs of problematic social media use is essential for adolescents. It can severely impact their daily roles and routines and pose a significant risk for long-term psychological harm. Some indicators of problematic social media use include using social media even when they want to stop, spending excessive effort to ensure continuous access to social media, strong cravings to use social media, disruptions in other activities due to missing social media use, and spending more time on social media than intended.
Lying or engaging in deceptive behaviour to retain access to social media is another concerning sign. Therefore, it’s crucial to monitor adolescents’ social media use to ensure their mental and emotional well-being. [Take the Quiz Here to Find out your Childs Digital Habits

Effect of Social Media on Sleep

It is imperative to establish healthy boundaries around social media usage to prevent its interference with adolescents’ sleep and physical activity. Studies suggest that at least eight hours of sleep each night is crucial for adolescents’ neurological development and emotional well-being. Moreover, technology use, especially social media use within an hour of bedtime, is linked to sleep disruptions. This can increase the risk of emotional and mental health issues such as depression and even suicide. Similarly, physical activity is essential for adolescents’ physical and psychological health. And research has shown that regular exercise can improve focus, mood, and overall well-being. Therefore, it is crucial to limit social media use and prioritize a healthy sleep routine and physical activity to promote optimal health in adolescents.

Avoid Comparison

Adolescents should limit the use of social media for social comparison, particularly around beauty- or appearance-related content.
Young individuals should control their usage of social media, especially when it comes to comparing themselves with others based on their looks or appearance. Numerous studies have shown that obsessively focusing on physical appearance through social media can lead to negative body image, unhealthy eating habits, and depression, particularly in females. Therefore, adolescents must be mindful of their social media habits and avoid comparing themselves to others based on physical appearance.

Social Media Training is Critical

Adolescents should get training before they use social media and should have developed competencies and skills that will maximize the chances for balanced, safe, and meaningful social media use. Therefore, parents and educators need to work together to ensure adolescents have social media literacy before they start using social media. More technology companies can indeed build this training into their platforms.
The American Psychological Association’s guidelines on teens’ use of social media. And offers a comprehensive approach to promoting healthy socialization and well-being among adolescents. By encouraging adult monitoring, and coaching, limiting exposure to harmful content, and providing training in social media literacy; we can help adolescents develop the competencies and skills needed to navigate the digital landscape safely and effectively. It is important to recognize that social media is here to stay. And as such, we must take proactive steps to ensure its use does not negatively impact the mental health and development of our youth.
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