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A Health Advisory for Teens and Social Media

May 09, 2023

For the first time, the American Psychological Association (APA) has released a health advisory on safe social media use for children and the training they need to be healthy online.

Released today, the APA report stresses that more research is needed to understand the ways social media affects adolescent health. The recommendations are focused on supporting educators, parents, policy makers, providers, technology companies, and children.

“Social media is neither inherently harmful nor beneficial to our youth,” APA President Thema Bryant, PhD, 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.”

Among the key recommendations in the report:

  • Training literacy:  Adolescents need social media literacy training before they have access to social media. This should assess their competency related to interpreting the accuracy of content, tactics used to spread misinformation and disinformation, signs of problematic use, and building healthy online relationships, among other topics.
  • Prioritizing beneficial health aspects:  When used properly, social media can help youth cultivate “social support, online companionship, and emotional intimacy.” Fostering connections can provide benefits, particularly during periods of social isolation.
  • Sliding scale:  It’s important to tailor children’s social media use to their overall developmental capabilities. This includes the availability for likes, time limits, notifications, and other features. 
  • Age indicators:  During early adolescence (10-14), adult monitoring is advised for most children on social media, including review, discussion, and coaching around social media content. This monitoring should be balanced with appropriate needs for privacy.
  • Minimizing psychological harm:  APA recommends minimizing exposure to content that encourages health-risk behaviors, such as self-harm or disordered-eating habits. Social media technology should not drive users to this content.
    • Exposure to “cyberhate” and online discrimination increases anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The APA also notes that social media use should not interfere with sleep and physical activity and that adolescents should be routinely screened for problematic use.

“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.

The report and a tip sheet for parents about keeping kids safe on social media is available online.