Is Social Media Safe?
As a society, we don’t let our kids smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol until they reach a certain age. Because a child’s brain isn’t fully developed, these substances can hinder their mental growth — on top of the inherent health risks they pose.
This begs a question: why is it acceptable for children to spend hours a day scrolling through social media, when the health effects are largely unknown?
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is asking the same question. In fact, he recently issued a warning imploring tech companies, parents, and caregivers to protect kids from excessive social media use.
Negative Side Effects
Most social media companies have an age requirement for kids to sign up. But age limits are hard to enforce for platforms with hundreds of millions of users. With the anonymity the internet affords, they’re also fairly easy to sidestep.
40% of children ages 8 to 12 use social media and are thus exposed to potentially harmful content. Meanwhile, a whopping 95% of kids in the subsequent age range, 13 to 17, report using at least one social media platform. 33% say they use social media “almost constantly.”
As a relatively new development, there are few conclusive studies as to the long-term effects of social media use. But in his warning, Dr. Murthy cited several studies suggesting social media has negative consequences. For example, an internal study linked Instagram (META) use to mental health issues, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts. Social media has also been shown to have harmful effects on sleep.
Social media isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be a vital outlet for expression and source of community, particularly for marginalized children. Dr. Murthy is not calling for a blanket ban. Rather, he’s urging policymakers to put up safety rails and regulations for social media, like there are for car seats, baby formula, and other products children use.
While waiting for those regulations to materialize, the Surgeon General also suggested three ways guardians can safeguard their children’s social media use themselves:
1. Setting boundaries or time limits.
2. Creating tech-free zones.
3. Educating kids on responsible technology usage.
Social media is best in moderation. Like with other things your kids likely love — such as drinking soda, eating candy, or watching TV — it’s more satisfying and healthy on a balanced diet.
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