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In response to Tuesday’s release of the US Surgeon General’s advisory highlighting the mental health risks of excessive social media use for children and teens, related information is flooding the Internet. The article below summarizes key viewpoints to provide a succinct resource for behavioral health professionals developing timely interventions with parents.
National Professional Association Articles
Two national behavioral associations have printed relevant guidance for their members since Tuesday. The American Counseling Association published an article reviewing the issues and offered the following benefits to social media use as reported by youth:
- Social media helps youth feel more accepted
- People on social media can support youth during difficult times
- A platform to demonstrate their creative side
- Youths feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives.
The American Psychological Association (APA) offered these 10 suggestions for therapists to consider after making it clear that the dangers of social media in youth depend on the child or adolescent, their strengths and weaknesses, their skills, and their environment as they intersect with different types of social media. The APA offered the following 10 suggestions to help therapists and parents make constructive decisions to protect youth from the dangers of social media:
- Children and adolescents should be urged to use features that cultivate social support, companionship, and emotional bonds, fostering healthier socialization.
- Parents may want to tailor social media use and permissions to align with children’s developmental capabilities with the awareness that adult-oriented designs may be harmful.
- Adult supervision, which includes reviewing, discussing, and coaching social media content, is recommended for early adolescents. Autonomy can gradually increase with age and digital literacy skills while maintaining a balance with appropriate privacy needs.
- Minimizing, reporting, and removing adolescents’ exposure to harmful social media content depicting illegal or psychologically maladaptive behaviors is crucial to reduce the risk of psychological harm.
- Measures should be taken to minimize exposure to “cyberhate,” including online discrimination, prejudice, and cyberbullying, especially targeting marginalized groups.
- Regular screenings for “problematic social media use” that could impair daily roles and routines and potentially cause serious psychological harm over time are essential.
- Limiting social media usage to avoid interference with sleep and physical activity is vital for adolescents’ well-being.
- Youths should be encouraged to avoid using social media for social comparison, especially regarding beauty or appearance-related content.
- Training in social media literacy should precede adolescents’ social media use to ensure the development of psychologically-informed competencies for balanced and safe social media usage.
- There is a need for significant resources to be allocated for continued scientific research into the positive and negative impacts of social media on adolescent development.
The APA article offers additional detail and resources for professionals seeking more direction.
Technology Options for Parents
Brian X. Chen, a New York Times (NYT) technology author, summarized several basic technology solutions after outlining key takeaways from the Surgeon General’s advisory about the dangers of social media use. A summary of the timely article is offered below for therapists working with parents seeking guidance for managing social media use in their families. The author offers device-specific suggestions for parents wishing to limit their youth’s exposure to the dangers of social media and protect their mental health and well-being.
- While young New Yorkers generally agreed with the Surgeon General’s assessment, some individuals expressed concerns about restricting access for young people.
- Researchers and teenagers acknowledge that social media can serve as a lifeline, offering a sense of identity and belonging, particularly for LGBTQ+ youth.
- Teens interviewed by the NYT have variable responses, including that attempts to restrict young people’s access were unwelcome.
- Dangers of social media use include cyberbullying, exposure to content that promotes eating disorders, self-harm, and other destructive behavior, as well as the negative impact on activities like exercise and sleep.
Built-in Tools on Mobile Devices
Parents wishing to limit their children’s screen time effectively may appreciate knowing about these resources:
- Google’s Family Link. This app, downloadable through the Google Play Store, offers a range of features to monitor and restrict your child’s device usage. It allows parents to set up and manage their child’s Google account, providing the ability to monitor and control screen time.
- Family Link for iOS. Parents who use iPhones can also manage their children’s Android phones using the Family Link app for iOS.
Apple’s Screen Time.
- Apple’s iOS includes Screen Time enables parents to limit their children’s time on their iPhones.
- Screen Time can be accessed and activated through the settings app on the iPhone, allowing parents to set specific time limits for various apps or app categories, such as social networking or games.
- When the allocated time for a particular app is exhausted, Screen Time locks the child out of the app, allowing parents to have a conversation and decide whether to allow additional time.
Pros and Cons of Built-in Tools
- Google’s Family Link offers valuable features like app rejection and the ability to lock down a device during specific hours, such as bedtime.
- However, one significant limitation of Family Link is that children can choose to “graduate” and lift the restrictions when they turn 13, which aligns with the minimum age requirement in the United States to create a Google account without parental consent.
- Parents who want to continue using restrictions can employ a workaround by modifying the child’s age in the Google account to under 13.
- Apple’s Screen Time, tested during a weekslong experiment, allows parents to set time limits for specific apps or categories, allowing for informed conversations about additional app usage.
- It’s worth noting that parents who use these tools to monitor their own phone usage may find it easy to bypass the restrictions using their passcode, potentially revealing their own addiction to screens.
Alongside built-in tools, third-party Android and iOS apps help parents manage screen time
- Reputable tools such as Qustodio and NetNanny, recommended by Common Sense Media, offer comprehensive control over children’s devices and can be used on personal computers, phones, and tablets. Common Sense Media is a non-profit focused on helping parents find media and technology solutions.
- Parents should be advised that some lesser-known apps advertised as tools to manage screen time are also dangerous. They may embed “stalkerware” allowing the app developer to track the user’s location and eavesdrop on them through their microphone.
Social Media Company Features
Social media platforms have recognized the need to address excessive screen time and offer features to encourage responsible usage.
- Instagram, for instance, provides a “Take a Break” reminder that users can enable to prompt them to pause their scrolling.
- TikTok has also introduced a tool this year that allows users to limit their time within the app.
- It is important to note that these features’ effectiveness has been questioned, as many people, including teenagers, have found ways to easily override them. Choosing a solution.
Therapists encouraging parents to get actively involved can minimize the dangers of social media use by presenting a balanced view of the pros and cons while encouraging them to use available tools, setting clear boundaries, and fostering a supportive environment.
Parents can be informed of various tools and strategies to address the challenge of limiting their children’s screen time. Built-in tools like Google’s Family Link and Apple’s Screen Time provide valuable monitoring and restricting device usage options. However, it’s essential to be aware of the limitations and potential workarounds associated with these tools, such as the age restrictions in Family Link and the bypassing of restrictions using passcodes.
Additionally, parents may need to be alerted to lesser-known third-party apps and their potential security risks. Ultimately, promoting open conversations with children about responsible device usage and encouraging a healthy balance between screen time and other activities remains pivotal.
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