Parents have been watching the effect of social media on their kids for years. Some doubt it’s that harmful, while others have a hunch social media is hurting them. Now a new public health advisory backs up those doubts parents have and it’s compelling: Parents should monitor, decrease, and in some cases totally remove, social media from their kids’ devices, for the sake of their health.
“Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content, to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use is compromising their sleep and valuable in-person time with family and friends,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in the advisory. “We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis.”
Social media use is rampant among children, adolescents, teens and even Generation Z, or 20-somethings. Research shows that 95% of young people ages 13-17 use at least one social media platform, and more than a third say they use it almost all the time.
The surgeon general cited research that suggests kids who spend more than three hours a day on social media “face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, such as symptoms of depression and anxiety.” Furthermore, a lot of social media use is also associated with “body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, social comparison, and low self-esteem, especially among adolescent girls.” Social media has also been proved to be so addictive, it’s affecting kids’ sleep, both quality and duration.
This isn’t just a problem among kids. In fact, 90 percent of adults have social media accounts and experience this. The tendency to scroll when bored, tired or even procrastinating at work can often mask an actual addiction, according to the Harvard Business Review. Why do even adults scroll endlessly?
“When something feels more accessible, it becomes easier to process, leading us to anticipate that we will enjoy it more. In other words, people choose to continue down the rabbit hole because viewing related media ‘feels right’ — even if it’s at odds with what they actually want to be doing, whether that’s getting work done or even just taking a break,” the Harvard Business Review said.
If adults struggle with this, how or why do we expect kids to fare better? In fact, the surgeon general warned that kids face more harm because their brains are still developing. Kids, especially from ages 10 to 19, are “undergoing a highly sensitive period of brain development.” Risk-taking behaviors have reached their peak at this age. Combined with mental health challenges such as the emergence of depression, the development of self-worth, and susceptibility to peer pressures, social media functions as an accelerant.
“Because adolescence is a vulnerable period of brain development, social media exposure during this period warrants additional scrutiny,” the advisory says.
Even some Hollywood stars, who benefit from themselves or at least their work being on social media, have banned it for their kids. Actress Kate Winslet was in a recent film, “I am Ruth,” with her daughter. The film highlights the dangers of social media.
She won an award via the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for it and in her acceptance speech she said the film was “made for parents and their children, for families who feel that they are held hostage by the perils of the online world.” She also encouraged UK official to ban harmful content and help kids get help.
Singer P!NK recently told an outlet that she doesn’t let her 11 year-old daughter have a phone and that she’s the only kid in the class without one. Actress Jennifer Garner has told her three children, two of which are teenagers, that if they could find one study that showed positive effects of social media, they could have a conversation about why she’s banned it.
If adults have been paying attention to their own tendencies to scroll social media, even hinting at addictive elements, or they’ve had their eyes open at all to negative content online, this warning shouldn’t be a new idea. For the most part, adults have filters and know by now what’s “real” and what’s not, what’s worth getting upset over and what’s not: Kids don’t have these, and social media takes advantage of all their weaknesses, including their underdeveloped brains, and exploits them.
If parents have always had an eerie, gut feeling about the negative side of “social” media, being anything but — either due to their own use or observations — let this advisory add additional proof. Now, parents need to just decide what they’re going to do about it.