Parents Should Monitor Social Media for Kids Under 15, APA Says

The BrightCanary Breakdown series distills research about kids, the internet, and social media into essential takeaways.

The American Psychological Association (APA) issued a new health advisory in April 2023 around adolescents and social media use, with 10 recommendations for parents.

“Using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people … [but] potential risks are likely to be greater in early adolescence — a period of greater biological, social, and psychological transitions, than in late adolescence and early adulthood.”

What Does the APA Recommend? 

Here are their specific recommendations, based on the scientific evidence to date:

  1. Social media can help kids develop friendship, support, and healthy connections. Data suggest this may benefit kids’ psychological development, particularly during periods of social isolation or when experiencing stress.
  2. Social networks should tailor their functionality to young people’s capabilities. For example, companies should make clear how kids’ data may be used, in language that kids can understand.
  3. Parents, monitor your 10–14-year-old's social media use so you can coach them and discuss any problematic content . Give them more privacy and freedom as they learn and age.
  4. Keep your kids away from harmful content, like videos or posts about self-harm or eating disorders. Report the content when possible to get it removed.
  5. Protect kids from consuming online content that promotes hate and bullying, especially against marginalized groups or individuals.
  6. Regularly check for signs that social media use is causing anxiety, addictive behaviors, or other problems in your child's daily life.
  7. Put limits around your child’s social media use so it doesn't disrupt their sleep or exercise.
  8. Teach kids not to compare themselves to others based on looks or popularity on social media.
  9. Train your child in how to use social media safely and meaningfully, including how to solve online conflicts and how to identify misinformation online.
  10. Support research into how social media affects kids, both good and bad.

Why Are They Making This Recommendation Now? 

There are more and more studies released every month about the impact of social media on children and young adults, often leading to alarming headlines. But these reports can be confusing, and there are still challenges to overcome in the research: It's difficult to prove causation because the data we need is often hard to get, buried within tech companies’ proprietary information. 

We don't yet have much information about how social media affects kids over many years and into adulthood. Additionally, there isn’t enough research on how social media affects kids from different backgrounds or racial or ethnic groups, or those with special needs or health conditions.

The APA is hoping to cut through the clutter and establish some best practices based on what we do know so far.

What Should I Do, Based on This Advisory? 

There are several actions you can take to help your kids establish and maintain healthy digital habits:

  • Implement a digital device contract to set expectations with your kids. 
  • Use the parental controls built into their devices, and adjust the settings on social media platforms like TikTok or YouTube to suit your child's age and understanding. 
  • Sign up for a child safety app like BrightCanary to monitor your child’s social media usage.
  • Have ongoing conversations with your child about what they’re seeing and doing online.
  • Limit your child’s screen time, especially before bedtime.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety, understand how social media can contribute to it, and modify their activities accordingly.

Our Take 

While it is true that much more research needs to be done around how social media impacts adolescents, the APA’s recommendations make sense given what we already know: kids need boundaries and limits on social media consumption, and parents have an important role to play in this.

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