Family, Kids & Relationships

APA issues 9 new recommendations for parents on teens and social media

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UPDATE: In a new advisory released on Tuesday, May 23, the United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned that social media use can pose a profound risk to children’s mental health and wellbeing. In a statement to the Associated Press, Murthy said, “The bottom line is we do not have enough evidence to conclude that social media is, in fact, sufficiently safe for our kids. And that’s really important for parents to know.”

The American Psychological Association has issued new recommendations for parents and policymakers about teens and social media. The guidance follows on the heels of new data revealing a mental health crisis among US teens, and recent research showing a link between frequent social media use and negative impacts on teens’ mental health.

What are the recommendations? 

Many of the new recommendations by the APA involved increased monitoring and guidance by parents of teens on social media. Here are all nine recommendations by the APA for parents about teens and social media—

  1. Lean into the positive aspects of social media. 

While social media can be a scary place, and comes along with negative impacts on our mental health, there are also lots of benefits of social media. Focusing your teen’s social media use on connection with friends, learning about their interests, and creative expression can help lessen the mental health harms that can come from frequent social media use. 

  1. Explain to your kids how social media keeps them hooked. 

Social media apps are generally not designed for young, developing minds. Talk them through the ways that social media apps are designed to be addictive and make us want to use them as much as possible—with endless scrolling, and algorithms learning what types of content we like. Then, look into the different parental controls and time limit functions of your child’s social media apps to keep their use of those apps in check. 

  1. Supervise their social media use as much as possible.

Recognizing that this isn’t always feasible for busy parents, the APA recommends that all social media use by kids under fifteen years old be supervised as much as possible. As kids get older and learn more digital literacy skills, parents can grant them more independence to use social media without supervision for gradually longer periods of time. 

  1. Check their feeds for harmful content.

Exposure to content promoting harmful behaviors such as disordered eating, self-harm, or harm to others can increase the likelihood that your teen will participate in similar behaviors. Watch their social media feeds and recommended videos for any content that seems harmful or dangerous and block and report those accounts immediately.

  1. Teach your teen about how hate and discrimination show up online.

 Exposure to racism, sexism, and other types of hate and discrimination online can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety associated with using social media. These impacts are even more pronounced among teens that belong to marginalized groups. Explain to them that structural racism exists online just like it does in the outside world. Report and block any hate you see on their feeds immediately.

  1. Regularly check in with your teen about their social media use.

Parents should regularly screen their teenagers for signs of problematic social media use, including—

  • A tendency to use social media even when they want to stop, or when they realize it is interfering with necessary tasks;
  • Spending excessive effort to ensure they have continuous access to social media;
  • Strong urges to use social media, or disruptions in their other activities because they miss using social media too much;
  • Frequently spending more time on social media than they intended;
  • Resorting to lying or deceptive behavior in order to access their social media;
  • Loss or disruption of significant relationships or educational opportunities because of media use.
  1. Make sure they’re getting enough sleep and physical activity.

Social media use at night, especially in bed, can cause sleep disruptions. Pediatricians recommend that teens get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Parents should eliminate screen use at least 30 minutes before bed time and keep devices out of bedrooms after lights out. Teens should also be getting adequate physical activity during the day.

  1. Explain the dangers of comparing themselves to others on social media.

Filters, editing, and flattering angles can all make images we see on social media more attractive than they would be in real life. Remind your child that someone’s social media feed is often a curated collection of positive, impressive, or otherwise flattering moments in someone’s life—but probably doesn’t necessarily accurately reflect what their real life is actually like. Comparing yourself to what you see on social media isn’t fair, and can harm your self-esteem.

  1. Teens should learn the basics of digital literacy.

Before they start to use social media without supervision, teens should learn some important skills they’ll need for navigating the internet on their own, including—

  • Questioning the accuracy and authenticity of social media content;
  • Understanding the tactics used to spread mis- and disinformation;
  • Understanding the signs of problematic social media use;
  • How to foster healthy and safe online relationships;
  • How to solve conflicts that can emerge on social media platforms;
  • How to refrain from excessive social comparisons online and better understand how images and content can be manipulated;
  • How to recognize online structural racism and critique racist messages;
  • How to safely communicate about mental health online.

What else do parents need to know?
These recommendations may sound like a lot to navigate for busy parents. Rather than getting stressed about not having time to monitor all of their social media use—do the best you can to watch what they’re doing online now, so you can teach them the skills they need to know to gradually become more independent online. ParentsTogether’s Online Safety Hub will run you through lots of important information about keeping your kids and their data safe online.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.