The Impact of Social Media on Young Minds
Posted by Julia Tortorice

With social media being so readily accessible these days, it’s hard to set limits and boundaries for children wanting to dive deep into the world of social networks. After much deliberation, as parents try to find the right balance of how much or even if our young teenagers should be on social media, new research has surfaced that indicates growing concerns for any social media engagement for people under the age of 13. In fact, in May 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory about the usage of social media and its risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.

The advisory came after research unveiled that roughly 95% of young people ages 13-17 reported using social media “almost constantly.” The press release published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services came with the Surgeon General’s warning that explained how social media exposes children to various detrimental content, encompassing violence, explicit material, cyberbullying, and harassment. Additionally, he stated that social media encroaches upon important sleep patterns and diminishes the quality of time they spend with loved ones. Let’s dive further into what’s going on to get a better idea of why the advisory was issued in the first place.

What is happening?

In today's interconnected world, it's hard to ignore the pervasive influence of social media on our lives. From sharing photos and videos to staying connected with friends and family, these platforms have become integral to our daily routines. However, as adults, we often overlook social media's profound impact on the youngest members of our society – our children. As digital natives, they are growing up in a world where likes, comments, and follower counts hold unprecedented significance. It's crucial for us to delve into the effects of social media on young children, exploring both the positive opportunities and the potential pitfalls they face in this virtual realm.

Similar to adults, young teens are drawn to social media for various reasons, primarily due to its widespread popularity and the allure of connecting with friends and peers. Some of the key reasons why young teens use social media extensively include the following:

  • Social connection: Social media provides an avenue for young teens to connect with their friends, share experiences, and stay updated on their social circles, which establishes being “in the know.” It offers a sense of belonging and facilitates communication, especially in an increasingly digital world.
  • Self-expression: Social media platforms allow young teens to express themselves creatively through posts, photos, videos, and personal profiles. It provides them a platform to showcase their individuality and gain peer validation.
  • Information and entertainment: Social media offers a wealth of information and entertainment options tailored to young teens' interests. They can explore diverse content, discover new trends, and stay updated on various topics of their choice.

While social media can have its benefits, there are several reasons why excessive use or misuse of social media can be detrimental to young teens:

  • Mental health impact: Research suggests a correlation between excessive social media use and adverse mental health outcomes such as increased feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Constant exposure to carefully curated highlight reels of others' lives can lead to social comparison and unrealistic expectations.
  • Cyberbullying and harassment: Social media platforms can become breeding grounds for cyberbullying, trolling, and online harassment. Young teens may become victims of such harmful behavior, causing significant emotional distress and even leading to long-term psychological consequences.
  • Addiction and sleep disturbances: The addictive nature of social media, coupled with the constant need for validation through likes and comments, can lead to excessive screen time. This can disrupt sleep patterns, as many young teens use social media late into the night, impacting their overall well-being and cognitive function.
  • Distorted self-image and body dissatisfaction: The idealized and often heavily filtered representations of beauty and body image on social media can negatively impact young teens' self-esteem and body image. Constant exposure to these unrealistic standards can contribute to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy comparison.
  • Privacy and safety concerns: Young teens may unknowingly expose themselves to privacy risks and online predators when sharing personal information or engaging in risky behaviors on social media platforms; a lack of awareness and understanding of online safety can make them vulnerable to various threats.

Before your child’s social media habits become too much, it is essential to strike a balance and promote healthy digital habits among young teens. Communicating with them and letting them know safety measures can be taken ensures they understand the potential risks and are guided in navigating the online world responsibly.

What is recommended?

Although each family is different and may want to set their protocols, establishing some form of guidelines to promote healthy social media engagement is essential. Parents and guardians should be sure to encourage open and ongoing communication about social media use, as well as educate teenagers about the potential risks involved. Since this issue has become such a general topic, let’s discuss a few things the American Psychological Association recommends for parents.

According to the American Psychological Association, they recommend:

  • Encouraging social media in a way to create opportunities for social support, online companionship, and emotional intimacy that promotes healthy socialization
  • Tailoring social media use, functionality, and permissions/consenting to the teenagers' developmental capabilities
  • Especially in early adolescence (10-14 years old), adult supervision and monitoring are advised for most social media use
  • Be a role model for social media; evidence suggests that exposure to poor behavior may promote similar behavior among vulnerable younger people
  • Screen for problematic behavior, such as the overuse of social media, which could present a risk for more serious psychological harm over time
  • The use of social media should be limited; it should not interfere with sleep and physical activity
  • Social media should also be limited for social comparison, particularly around beauty or appearance-related content

Social media undoubtedly holds immense power in shaping the lives of children today. While it offers opportunities for connection, self-expression, and access to information, we must also acknowledge the potential risks and negative impacts it can have on their well-being. Parents, educators, and society as a whole must engage with children actively, guiding them to navigate social media responsibly and promoting healthy digital habits. Balancing screen time with real-world experiences, fostering open conversations about online safety and mental health, and nurturing critical thinking skills are essential steps in empowering children to make informed decisions in the digital realm. By prioritizing their mental and emotional well-being, we can harness the positive potential of social media while safeguarding children from its potential pitfalls, ultimately ensuring a healthier and more balanced digital future for the youngest members of our society.