Student Opinion: Reducing Social Media’s Potential Harms to Adolescents



By: Rodrigo Villegas


On Tuesday, the American Psychological Association (APA) published recommendations regarding adolescents and their use of social media — its first advisory on social media usage — directed at teens, parents, teachers, and policymakers. 


The report does not condemn social media, nor does it target specific platforms, but strives to address general concerns regarding teenagers’ use of social media. Instead, the report expresses that social media is “not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people.”


According to NPR, the advisory comes at a period where a growing number of adolescents are experiencing depression, anxiety, and loneliness, with evidence supporting that social media can worsen or produce these issues. 


The ten recommendations are supported by scientific findings, and promote instruction in social media literacy and psychological development prior to entering the world of social media. These recommendations serve to help teens avoid any possible harms. Dr. Thema Bryant — the APA’s president — told CNN, “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.” 


The APA suggests that parents regularly monitor adolescents for any indications of “problematic social media use.” Meanwhile, as they age and learn to navigate social media, parents should gradually allow their children more privacy and freedom in their social media usage. 


However, some therapists and clinicians believe the recommendations assign too much responsibility to the parents, noting that applying some of the suggestions require the help of tech companies and regulators. Kameron Mendes — a therapist at Walden Behavioral Care — told NPR: “It’s a little hard for me to imagine that these recommendations can be implemented without coordination with big tech companies or even regulations through Congress.” 


Additionally, some psychologists believe the report lacks clear actions for parents to take. “This isn’t like teaching your kid to drive a car,” said Robert Keane — a therapist at Walden Behavioral Care. “This is completely new information for many parents and their kids.”


Social media has its benefits. It can serve as a means of connecting with others when you cannot see them in person. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of this: during the lockdown, I turned to social media to communicate with my friends and observe how they were handling the lack of everyday social interaction. 


However, despite its merits, I do believe social media provides more harm to adolescents than it does good. 


It is extremely easy for any adolescent to open TikTok, for example, and fall down a never-ending spiral of swiping through several videos. Before they know it, 30 minutes have passed without having done anything. Then, they find it difficult to separate themselves from the app, so they continue scrolling. Many adolescents are not aware of how social media can be addicting. 


I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called The Social Dilemma, where tech experts argue that technology controls our lives and is used as a means of manipulating us. I think the website phrases it best: “The technology that connects us also controls us, manipulates us, polarizes us, distracts us, monetizes us, divides us.” While tech experts generalize the problem to technology usage, it is certainly still tied to social media. 


I found this documentary quite insightful and powerful in its message that, since viewing it, I have attempted to cut back on my social media usage…in vain, I must confess. 


The documentary does villainize social media and technology, like many parents, but for good reasons. Therefore, when I heard about the APA’s health advisory on social media usage earlier this week, I found myself agreeing with the recommendations provided, especially because social media can cause depression, anxiety, and loneliness among teens.


Yes, social media usage should be monitored, at least for younger teens. Yes, social media usage should be limited. But how? What steps can be taken, by parents, to implement the APA’s recommendations? 


Furthermore, tech companies and policymakers should work in tandem to better address this problem. During early teenage years, parents can limit their children’s social media usage and educate their children on how to navigate through social media. However, as children age, parents should provide their kids with more privacy and autonomy in their social media usage. At this point, tech companies and policymakers need to step in to lower the risks of potential harms from social media. 


While I think the APA’s advisory is a great first step, more can be done by the APA by including clear actions for parents to take. Additionally, tech companies and policymakers should play their part in addressing social media usage in adolescence. 

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