UCLA/National Scientific Council on Adolescence Report on How to Improve Social Media for Tweens

By Jessica Jackson
March 1, 2023
Tweens laughing and looking at a computer screen together

How do we promote positive development and decrease the risks of social media for tweens? According to a new report, it starts with reevaluating the way we think about digital technology. 

The National Scientific Council on Adolescence, part of the UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent, recently released a new report titled “Engaging, Safe, and Evidence-Based: What Science Tells Us About How to Promote Positive Development and Decrease Risk in Online Spaces for Early Adolescents.” 

The report is focused on recommendations related to social media use by early adolescents, defined as ages 10-13. It's a lengthy read at 32 pages, but we’ve distilled the major takeaways for you here.

What’s so important about early adolescence in relation to social media?

Early adolescence is the perfect storm of expanding independence, high curiosity, low emotional regulation, and particular susceptibility to social influence.

The report's authors note that young adolescents are going through a major learning period. During that period, they begin figuring out complex social situations, testing adult limits, and questioning their identities. 

“As they go through these changes, young adolescents are especially sensitive to external social and emotional influences, and compared to older adolescents, they are not as able to regulate their responses to these influences.”

What’s problematic about this age group when it comes to social media?

Social media companies aren’t considering this age group when they build their platforms and features, because technically they shouldn’t be using their platforms. 

The minimum age for all users is 13 for most social media platforms. However, social media use increases dramatically during early adolescence: 38% of 8- to 12-year-olds use social media.

Is social media good or bad for tweens?

It’s both — and whether it’s more bad than good (or vice versa) for your child depends on a variety of factors.

According to the report, social media’s opportunity for good includes:

  • Seeking support
  • Developing identity
  • Social and emotional learning
  • Gaining acceptance

Opportunities for harm include: 

  • Sleep disruption
  • Increased exposure to bullying, pornography, and unhealthy body images
  • Harmful targeted advertising 

What does the report recommend?

The UCLA researchers offer several specific recommendations, grouped into four categories.

Digital technology should scaffold healthy development and promote wellness.

  • These platforms should be explicitly designed to enhance core aspects of positive early adolescent development, maximize wellness, and ensure that the benefits of using digital platforms outweigh the risks. 
  • Designs should be developmentally appropriate and youth-centered, not just “kid versions” of applications and platforms that were originally designed and intended for adult use. Youth, parents, and experts in early adolescent development should all be actively involved in the design of digital platforms for young people.

Digital technology used by young adolescents should incorporate and advance the best available research as part of its design and evaluation process. 

  • Policies regarding the collection and use of personal data should be transparent to users and require parental consent. Digital technology companies should perform ongoing safety monitoring and use young adolescent users’ data to refine features of their platforms to better promote healthy development and well-being and remove features and content that are harmful.
  • Targeted advertising should not be allowed for users below a certain age. 
  • Features that pose known risks for long-term consequences should be highly regulated for users below a certain age, and accurate age verification methods should be enforced. 
  • Both companies and young adolescent users of digital technology should have opportunities to receive training on how to ensure that online spaces for early adolescents are safe.

Digital technology used by young adolescents should incorporate and advance the best available research as part of its design and evaluation process.

  • Tech platforms should rely on research into early adolescent development and resulting expert recommendations and regulations to improve their products. These platforms should also ensure that they promote positive development and limit harm during early adolescence. 
  • An evidence-based approach should be required moving forward.  

All young adolescents should have reliable access to the level of digital connectivity and devices required to fully participate in their education and learning.

  • Tech companies should make their products accessible to all young users who may benefit from their online spaces. Companies should consider ways to overcome access inequities that may arise from fee-based or subscription models.
  • Age requirement algorithms should be inclusive and not reliant on exclusionary requirements like birth certificates or provision of parents’ personal information. 

The report goes into great detail about each of these four recommendations, and you can also watch a panel discussion on the report on YouTube to learn more.

Our take

This report highlights the fact that any progress in this direction requires tech platforms to either prevent tweens from using their products, or acknowledge they’re part of their user base and make design, data collection, and targeting decisions with their best interests in mind. In the meantime, it's essential for parents to stay informed about what their kids encounter online. BrightCanary is a social media monitoring app that shows you what your child encounters on Instagram, TikTok, Google, and YouTube, as well as text messages on Apple devices.

Tech platforms have a long way to go before they’re appropriate, let alone empowering, for tweens. But parents need accessible tools and settings that help them keep their children safe online sooner, rather than later.

Be the most informed parent in the room.
Sign up for bimonthly digital parenting updates.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
@2024 Tacita, Inc. All Rights Reserved.