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Children, teens and social media: APA panel offers first set of guidelines


The American Psychological Association issued a list of recommendations for parents to monitor their kids’ use of social media and if it’s leading to potentially harmful behavior.

Thema Bryant, president of the American Psychological Association (Image: APA)

Thema Bryant, president of the American Psychological Association (Image: APA)

Teens, younger kids, and yes, their parents, spend a great deal of time on social media.

With social media being a regular part of daily life for so many young people, the American Psychological Association has issued its first set of recommendations regarding the use of social media by adolescents.

Parents should monitor how their children, especially younger kids, use social media, and they should limit exposure to content that could be harmful.

The guidelines also call for parents to respect appropriate measures of privacy as well.

“Social media is neither inherently harmful nor beneficial to our youth,” Thema Bryant, president of the APA, said in a 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."

The recommendations don’t advise parents to keep their kids away from social media, but they do call on parents to give them some guidance before becoming active on social media.

“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,” Bryant said.

Here are some key points in the American Psychological Association recommendations.

  • Parents should encourage youth to use social media for healthy socialization, including online companionship and support.
  • The use of social media, including permissions, should be adapted to reflect where kids are in their development. Some designs for adults may not be suitable for kids.
  • In kids 10-14 years old, parents should monitor most social media use and discuss how it should be used.
  • Parents should minimize exposure to social media content that could encourage self-harm, including suicide, cutting or eating disorders, or behavior that could hurt others. Parents should try to report such content and have it removed.
  • Aim to limit exposure to content that promotes online discrimination, hate, or cyberbullying, particularly to groups that are marginalized.
  • Make sure social media use isn’t becoming problematic to the point that it is hurting their child's ability to engage in daily routines.
  • Parents should limit social media activity so that it doesn’t lead to less sleep or reduced physical activity.
  • Encourage kids not to use social media as a tool to determine how they view their own appearance or ideals for beauty.
  • Try to offer some guidance to young people before they become heavily involved in social media by helping them to understand some social media content isn’t accurate, spotting disinformation, building healthy relationships and resolving conflict.
  • The APA also called for more research into the positive and negative impact of social media on children and teens.
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