knowledge is power

The APA Has Issued Its First Ever Guidelines On Social Media Use For Kids

If you’ve been looking for doctor-recommended social media rules, here they are.

Kids should be "trained" in social media because they gain the free to scroll according to new APA s...
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The American Psychological Association (APA) has released a new set of guidelines on social media use for kids, urging parents to limit the content their children are exposed to on apps like TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram.

The guidelines include ten recommendations to help parents make sure their kids develop healthy social media habits that do not hinder their physical, mental, and emotional health.

From ensuring a healthy community is being built within a child’s social media network to proper permission settings to routine parental screenings and monitoring, these guidelines work to bring balance to an overwhelming area of the internet that many kids (and many parents, honestly) struggle to use in a healthy way.

“Social media is neither inherently harmful nor beneficial to our youth,” wrote APA President Thema Bryant in a prepared statement. “But because young people mature at different rates, some are more vulnerable than others to the content and features on many social media platforms that science has demonstrated can influence healthy development.”

“Just as we require young people to be trained in order to get a driver’s license, our youth need instruction in the safe and healthy use of social media,” she continued.

The report also recommends “psychological competencies” that youth should possess before using social media, plus periodic social media trainings to minimize the chances for harm and maximize the benefits that social media can provide.

The health advisory notes that not all findings apply equally to all youth. “Scientific findings offer one piece of information that can be used along with knowledge of specific youths’ strengths, weaknesses and context to make decisions that are tailored for each teen, family and community,” it says.

“Age-appropriate use of social media should be based on each adolescent’s level of maturity (e.g., self-regulation skills, intellectual development, comprehension of risks, and home environment).”

Parents with neurodivergent children may actually benefit from these guidelines the most. “These guidelines are designed to protect children from the potential harm that excessive or inappropriate use of social media can cause,” Dr. Christina Johns, pediatric emergency doctor & Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, explained. “Those with neurodivergent disorders can be more vulnerable to some of these issues, and so these guidelines are theoretically even more applicable and relevant to this population.”

All in all, 95% of teenagers have an account on at least one social media platform, according to a Pew Research Center survey, and kids are using social media now more than ever.

Now, the APA says that parents need to step up to help protect the youth. While the guidelines may seem daunting, experts say that making sure kids are using social media in a healthy, manageable way could just be spending some more time together.

Ashley Harlow, Ph.D., MBA, licensed child and adolescent psychologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, recognizes just how much a challenge it might be for parents to hone in on these new guidelines thoroughly and properly.

“Parents are pulled in increasingly diverse and demanding directions, and monitoring kids’ activities online can be a significant challenge,” he tells Scary Mommy. “This is particularly true for more vulnerable families whose demands might be greater than average or who do not have the resources to invest in software options that make monitoring more accessible.”

Instead of looking over your kid’s shoulder while they scroll TikTok, Harlow offers a more relational approach.

“I would advise parents to think of monitoring differently; this is not an enforcement task. This is an opportunity to get to know your children better – which can be particularly difficult in adolescence – and teach them how to handle difficult and complex social situations, messages and cultural changes. Parents are profoundly important influencers for their kids, even if they are not getting any ad revenue for it,” he says.

When it comes to how to go about those lessons, Harlow has three easy tips. First, be a role model for proper social media behavior.

“Parents who misuse social media have kids who misuse social media,” he says. It’s as simple as that.

Second, make sure to schedule in some screen-free time during the day. “We all need a break. Kids need to learn that they can live without TikTok, even briefly,” Harlow continues.

Lastly, be on the same apps as your kids. “Be interested, talk about what you see and share social media in a positive way,” Harlow suggests.

The APA also suggests parents limit their kid’s social media use so as to not interfere with sleep and physical activity. Alison Hodges Scott, Pediatrician and GRYT expert advisor, suggests keeping devices out of a child’s bedroom to allow for healthy sleep, “ideally 1-2 hours before bedtime and allowing for at least 8 hours of consecutive sleep.”

Just like adults, sleep can take a backseat to endless scrolling in the dark from the comfort of our own bed.

One of the APA’s major guidelines for social media use in young people recommends that kids and parents gain “social media literacy” to ensure that users have developed psychologically-informed competencies and skills that will maximize the chances for balanced, safe, and meaningful social media use.

To find the best literature for navigating different social media apps, Harlow recommends going right to the source but keep an eye out for addition insights that may be less biased. “ media companies offer a range of resources and supports, but looking at independent sources can offer additional insights and a balanced perspective,” she recommends.

Dr. Johns recommends building a relationship with your children’s school. “Many humanities curriculums now incorporate online literacy components, so connecting with your child's English or Social Studies teachers, as well as Deans of Instruction, is a good starting point,” Johns said.

“Ask about the types of resources that the school can provide to families to help educate them about social media literacy. You can also consult with a local library or park district.”

These APA guidelines lean heavily on parents — parents who may feel overwhelmed with yet another thing to monitor, keep track of, read up on, and engage with. Johns doesn’t want parents to be too hard on themselves. It’s okay to ask for help.

“Remember, it takes a village. There are other adults in your child's life that can be reliable and useful sources of support in many areas, including social media monitoring — parents' groups, neighborhood watches, teachers, school counselors, pediatricians. Depending on the type of community you live in, chances are that there are many people all around you who could be relied on to give you insight and assistance in this matter,” Johns said.

She continued, “Lean into the phrase ‘the best defense is a good offense’ and discuss with your child before any issues arise how they are going to handle/troubleshoot various issues such as cyberbullying, negative comments, and similar.”

With parental guidance and the knowledge of what potential risks and dangers can arise from excessive social media use, the upcoming generation may have a chance at healthy relationships with screens and the online world.