The American Psychological Association is calling for teens to undergo training before they enter the sometimes fun but sometimes fraught world of social media, according to new recommendations released Tuesday.
“Social media is neither inherently harmful nor beneficial to our youth,” said Dr. Thema Bryant, the APA’s president. “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 assembled an advisory panel to review the scientific literature on social media use and formulate recommendations for healthy adolescent use, according to an APA news release.
The American Psychological Association Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescence released 10 recommendations to guide educators, parents, policymakers, mental health and health practitioners, technology companies and adolescents.
The recommendations emphasize that adolescents should have instruction in social media literacy and psychological development before joining social media as well as occasional training to bolster their knowledge as they go along, all to minimize potential harm.
They also advise that social media use should be tailored to the child’s developmental stage — and monitored by adults in the case of younger children.
Imposing limitations is also important when it comes to content that promotes self-harm, eating disorder behavior, discrimination, hate, cyberbullying, or that is primarily beauty focused, the release said.
The recommendations also encourage limitations on when adolescents use social media, so as not to interfere with sleep or physical activity.
Not all rules work for all teens
Optimal social media use won’t look the same in every child, which is why the panel said recommendations need to be paired with knowledge of individual strengths, weaknesses and context.
“Age-appropriate use of social media should be based on each adolescent’s level of maturity (e.g., self-regulation skills, intellectual development, comprehension of risks) and home environment,” the release said.
There was also a lack of sufficient research into social media use of “youth from racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, socioeconomic or differently abled populations, and/or youth with chronic developmental or health conditions,” the release said.
The APA also called for more investment in research funding to access more data.
Given the research available, the APA cannot say if social media is helpful or harmful to young people, especially considering both the risks of harmful content and the rewards of healthy socialization.
But the APA will continue to monitor developments in research on current and future platforms, said Dr. Arthur C. Evans Jr., the APA CEO.
“We hope these recommendations will be helpful as we all try to keep pace with the rapidly shifting social media ecosystem,” he said.
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