Category: Social Media Safety

Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health: Balancing Benefits and Risks

Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health: Balancing Benefits and Risks

It’s nothing new to parents or educators that there are issues needing to be addressed regarding kids’ use of social media. Even among adults, social media has been a subject of concern related to mental health, screen addiction, and the alienation it can bring. This is despite the fact that humankind has never been more connected online.

For younger children just learning about social media, right up through the teen years, developing minds are especially susceptible to potential harm.  So, on May 21, 2024, United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an urgent advisory highlighting the complex relationship between social media use and youth mental health. This advisory underscores the need for immediate national awareness and action due to the nearly universal use of social media among young people, and the significant public health implications it entails.

However, it also looks at the potential benefits and makes recommendations with a balanced approach.  Here is a summary of the advisory:

Overview: Social Media Usage Among Youth

Social media usage among youth is pervasive, with up to 95% of adolescents aged 13-17 using platforms, and over a third reporting near-constant use. Even younger children, aged 8-12, show a high engagement rate, despite age restrictions on many platforms. This widespread use raises concerns about its impacts on mental health, though comprehensive independent safety analyses remain scarce.

Dual Impacts of Social Media

The advisory notes that social media can both benefit and harm youth, influenced by various factors such as usage time, content type, and the nature of social interactions online. It acknowledges that adolescents are in a critical phase of brain development, making them particularly sensitive to social pressures and online interactions.

Potential Benefits

Social media offers numerous benefits, such as fostering connections, providing a sense of community, and offering platforms for self-expression. It can be especially supportive for marginalized groups, including racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. Many adolescents report feeling more accepted and supported through online interactions, and digital mental health interventions show promise in promoting help-seeking behaviors.

Potential Harms

Conversely, excessive social media use is linked to several negative outcomes. Studies indicate that adolescents spending more than three hours per day on social media are at a higher risk of depression and anxiety. Other risks include cyberbullying, sleep disturbances, and body image issues. Adolescents are also vulnerable to harmful content, such as depictions of self-harm and suicide, which can normalize these behaviors.

Content Exposure and Excessive Use

Harmful content exposure and problematic use patterns are significant concerns. Inappropriate and harmful content is easily accessible, and features designed to maximize user engagement can lead to excessive use, resembling addictive behaviors. This overuse can disrupt essential activities like sleep and physical activity, further impacting mental health.

Evidence Gaps and Need for Research

Despite the clear indicators of potential harm, substantial gaps in evidence remain. Current research is primarily correlational and lacks access to critical data from technology companies. More comprehensive studies are necessary to understand the full scope of social media’s impact and to develop evidence-based interventions.

Recommendations for Action

The advisory outlines actionable steps for various stakeholders, emphasizing the urgent need for a multi-faceted approach to mitigate the risks associated with social media use among children and adolescents.

Policymakers:

Playing a crucial role in shaping the digital environment to safeguard youth mental health, key actions for policy makers include:

Enforcing Age-Appropriate Design Standards: Policies should ensure that social media platforms are designed with age-appropriate features that protect younger users. This includes implementing default privacy settings, limiting data collection, preventing exploitation, and restricting exposure to potentially harmful content.

Enhancing Transparency Requirements: Legislation should mandate technology companies to disclose how their algorithms operate, particularly how content is recommended and how user data is collected and utilized. Increased transparency can help identify and mitigate the negative impacts of social media.

Regulating Engagement Features: Policies should address features that promote excessive use, such as autoplay videos, infinite scrolling, and push notifications. These features can be designed to minimize addictive behaviors and encourage healthier usage patterns.

Technology Companies

Tech companies have a responsibility to create safer online environments for young users. They can contribute by:

Prioritizing Safety and Well-Being: Companies should integrate safety features into the core design of their platforms. This includes using algorithms that filter out harmful content, providing tools for users to report abuse, and creating systems to prevent cyberbullying.

Sharing Data for Research: To facilitate a better understanding of social media’s impact, tech companies should collaborate with independent researchers by sharing anonymized data. This transparency can help in developing evidence-based strategies to enhance user safety.

Implementing Age Verification: Strengthening age verification processes can ensure that children under the age limits are not exposed to inappropriate content. This can be achieved through more robust identification methods and regular audits.

Parents and Caregivers

On the frontline of managing children’s social media use, effective strategies for parents and caregivers include:

Fostering Open Communication: Encouraging an ongoing dialogue about social media can help children feel comfortable discussing their online experiences. Parents should listen to their children’s concerns and provide guidance on how to navigate digital interactions safely.

Modeling Healthy Behaviors: Parents can set a positive example by demonstrating balanced social media use. This includes setting aside device-free times, especially during family interactions, and prioritizing face-to-face communication.

Setting Boundaries: Establishing clear rules about the amount of time spent on social media and the type of content that can be accessed is crucial. Using parental control tools to monitor and limit social media use can help enforce these boundaries.

Youth

Educating young people about safe social media practices empowers them to use digital platforms responsibly. This includes:

Understanding Risks and Benefits: Youth should be aware of both the positive and negative aspects of social media. Education programs can teach them about the potential mental health impacts and how to seek help if needed.

Practicing Digital Literacy: Encouraging critical thinking about the content they consume, and share can help youth make informed decisions. They should learn to recognize misleading information and harmful content.

Maintaining Healthy Habits: Young people should be guided on how to balance online and offline activities. Promoting regular breaks from screens, engaging in physical activities, and prioritizing sleep are essential for maintaining mental well-being.

Researchers

To address the gaps in current knowledge, researchers should focus on:

Exploring Mechanisms of Impact: Studies should investigate how specific features of social media platforms affect mental health. This includes understanding how social comparison, exposure to harmful content, and engagement patterns contribute to outcomes like anxiety and depression.

Developing Interventions: Researchers should work on creating and testing interventions that can mitigate the negative impacts of social media. This might involve digital literacy programs, mental health resources integrated within social media platforms, and tools to promote positive online behaviors.

Longitudinal Studies: Long-term studies tracking the same individuals over time can provide insights into how social media use affects mental health throughout different stages of adolescence and into adulthood.


Interestingly enough, but perhaps not related, schools who are banning cell phones in schools are also including restrictions on social media use. Is this because of the reported harm that social has on youth mental health?  Or, is it simply because of the obvious distraction that social media brings to cell phone use while in school.

The American Phycological Association has also issued their health advisory on social media use in adolescence.  They acknowledge the surgeon general’s advisory and have issued their own recommendations based on scientific evidence to date.


Final Words

The Surgeon General’s advisory calls for a coordinated effort among policymakers, technology companies, parents, youth, and researchers to create a safer digital landscape. By implementing these detailed recommendations, it is possible to protect the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents, ensuring that social media can be used as a tool for positive development rather than a source of harm.

Download the U.S. Surgeon General’s Youth Mental Health Social Media Advisory

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How (And Why) to Keep Your Kids off Social Media This Summer

How (And Why) to Keep Your Kids off Social Media This Summer

Summer break is one of the best times to be a kid. They get to sleep in, hang out with friends and spend their free time however they want. Unfortunately, that often means scrolling through social media feeds. Kids spending more time on social media during the summer may have negative effects on their mental health.

Learn more about how that could harm your child’s mental health and a few ways to keep them busy this summer.

Ways Social Media Hurts Kids During the Summer

Connecting with people online might seem great, but researchers advise that it happens in moderation. When adolescents spend more than three hours on social media each day, they double their risk of developing anxiety and depression. It relates to kids having virtual experiences such as:

  • Seeing posts about summer swimsuits and developing body image issues.
  • Watching influencers or their friends go on vacations and becoming jealous.
  • Feeling pressured to post more about their personal life like their friends, resulting in sharing too much private information about their families.

Limiting social media use or banning it for specific days may protect your kid’s mental health, especially when they have more free time during summer breaks. If you keep them busy, they’ll have an easier time adjusting to life with less screen time.

How to Keep Your Kids Off Social Media

Young people of any age get upset when they’re bored. Replace screen time with these ideas to make their summer break fun without social media.

1. Sign up for Camps

Organizations know parents need help entertaining their children during summer breaks. You still have to go to work or run errands while they sit at home. Signing them up for summer camps prevents them from getting bored without their social media accounts.

Local groups schedule day and overnight camps to make summer breaks more fun and educational. Your little one could attend a week-long science camp or spend the day with other kids while learning to ride horses. Ask them what hobbies they love most to find camps that are fun, educational or a mix of both.

2. Invest in Summer Tutoring Sessions

Young people may get excited about taking a break from tests during the summer, but those warm weather months are the perfect time to prepare for the upcoming school year. Your child might benefit from a tutor to cover subjects they struggled with during the school year. You can also use free online resources for self-guided study time covering anything from algebra to biology and other difficult subjects.

When it’s time to start algebra in the fall, they’ll do better in school and feel more confident because they took advantage of their summer break with tutoring sessions. Consider what they’ll take this coming year to find tutoring that prepares them for the coming year.

3. Find Summer Sports Teams

Summer sports are another way to keep your kids off social media this summer. Sign them up for basketball, swim team or volleyball lessons. You never know if they’ll discover a new love for a specific sport.

If they do, they could continue their new active hobby with a school team. The community team may also continue through the school year, depending on their funding and schedule.

4. Plan Family Time

Don’t miss out on exciting warm-weather activities during your child’s summer break. You could go to the community pool together or walk around a local nature trail in the evening. Maybe they’d love to camp in the backyard with you. Invite their friends over to make it an extra exciting adventure for everyone.

As long as you spend time together, you’ll boost your child’s well-being, keep them off social media and enjoy all of summer’s fun activities. They’ll also feel more comfortable with your new social media limits if you’re not scrolling through your feeds around them.

5. Attend Seasonal Festivals

The summer months are full of opportunities for festivals. Check your city’s local events calendar to discover what’s happening around town.

Instead of spending time online, your family could attend a parade, a bike festival or cookouts with local volunteer organizations. You’ll show your little one how to find new friends while making fantastic memories.

Enjoy Your Summer as a Family

Plan these fun activities for your kids during their summer break and they won’t mind going without their social media feeds. You’ll help them meet new friends and make memories while protecting them from the potential harm that comes from scrolling through social media all day long.

Cora Gold - Editor in ChiefAuthor bio:  Cora Gold is the Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine, Revivalist. She strives to live a happy and healthy life with her family by her side.
Follow Cora on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Safety in Social Media: Beyond the Basics

Safety in Social Media: Beyond the Basics

A child should understand what being safe on social sites entails. It includes how to treat personal information, how to relate with others, how to ensure privacy, and how to identify safe and unsafe content. These are the basics of social media safety.  We dare not them for granted, even if we have already taught our children these standard safety practices.

There are also extra layers of safety that a PIA can add is to enhance that security by hiding their IP address and encrypting what they do online. This ensures that any possible threat cannot target them and will help keep privacy at the best levels online.  Still, that doesn’t mean kids should not be taught as much as possible about how to stay safe on any social media platform they may be using.

Social Media Safety: Next Level of Education

Beyond the basics, there is more advanced instruction that parents can teach their children. And it needs to evolve as children grow. As humans, we generally wish to trust others. And therein lies the potential for weakness to be exploited.

The Psychology of Oversharing:

The compulsion to overshare on social media platforms is often fueled by a complex interplay of psychological factors. The need for validation, fear of missing out (FOMO), and desire for connection drive individuals to disclose personal details and experiences online.

However, oversharing can have unintended consequences, ranging from privacy breaches and identity theft to reputational damage and emotional distress.

To strike a balance between authenticity and privacy, kids should be taught to cultivate self-awareness and mindfulness in our online interactions.

Before hitting “post:

  • Set boundaries for what you’re comfortable sharing and regularly review your privacy settings to ensure your digital footprint is protected.
  • Engage in offline activities that fulfill your need for connection and validation, reducing reliance on social media as the primary outlet for self-expression.

By teaching a mindful approach to sharing online, kids can be taught to safeguard their privacy and well-being beyond privacy settings while still enjoying the benefits of social media connectivity.

Managing Your Digital Footprint

Teaching kids what a digital footprint entails is the key to them understanding that every action online as a result.  Unwise discussions due to naïve thinking or an assumption of anonymity does not mean you haven’t left a digital trail.  Explain that your guidance for managing one’s digital footprint is not just about protection today, but for potential harm in the future.

Cultivating a Mindful Online Presence

Instead of just focusing on privacy settings, emphasize the importance of mindfulness in online interactions. Teach them how to scrutinize messages that may contain malicious links. Phishing happens on social media as well, and malware can spread even within an app.

Mental Health and Social Media

Discuss the potential impact of social media on mental health and well-being. Provide strategies for maintaining a healthy relationship with social media, such as setting boundaries, curating a positive feed, and seeking support when needed.

The Rise of AI in the Wrong Hands

Predators and cybercriminals now have access to artificial intelligence to custom curate messages, voices, deepfake videos, and attacks that prey on our emotions.  Teach your child how to safeguard against digital manipulation by never assuming what they are seeing or reading is legitimate, even if it comes from a friend.

Cyberbullying and Online Communication

Online, serious cyberbullying takes place. Teach your child how to recognize cyberbullying – be it through nasty comments, exclusion from groups, or threatening messages. From such behaviors online, you should not retaliate but rather save the evidence and talk to an adult to help you manage the situation.

With the rise of various parental control tools—including being a parent, you now have tools to control how your child uses social media. Parental control software like ClevGuard can block harmful content, enforce time restrictions on the use of social media, and help you supervise their engagements online without being too intrusive. These tools are not about restriction but to ensure your child eases into social media, with safety nets in place up to a time when they can handle more freedom.

Online Friendships and Interaction

Social media platforms such as Instagram can be ideal for children to keep up with their friends. Still, educating them on the set boundaries in their relationships online is important. Make them aware of the risks of online predators and their patterns, such as pretending to be somebody else to gain a child’s trust. They should be aware that they should never agree to meet in person with someone they spoke to online without talking to an adult first.

Making It Easier to Talk

Lastly, the greatest security feature of all is communication: let your child know they can come to you with any concerns or questions regarding their online experience. General updates on how they are using social media may keep you abreast of the situation and, at the same time, give them a chance to talk about any issue that troubles them.

ou need to be approachable and non-judgmental so that your child feels safe discussing their online life with you.  This type of process aids your child in deriving the advantages of social media and bypassing many risks. It just ensures a balanced approach so that they feel supported and educated on how to work their way around the world of social media safely.

With these steps, you help your kid enjoy the benefits that come with the use of social media while mitigating most of its associated risks. It is all about balanced empowerment and education—giving them everything they need to be safe while on social media.

Read about the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on social media and youth mental health.

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Strategies for Protecting Children from Social Media Exploitation

Strategies for Protecting Children from Social Media Exploitation

Social media offers a vibrant and engaging avenue for children to forge friendships and discover new knowledge. It can act as a supportive haven for teenagers, providing a sense of validation and belonging. By connecting with peers who are navigating similar challenges, social media can significantly reduce feelings of isolation among youth.

Additionally, it serves as a sanctuary where support groups on critical issues like bullying, depression, and abuse are easily accessible, while simultaneously enabling teenagers to showcase their creativity and talents.

However, the very strengths that social media offers to children, teens and groups, can also be used to exploit them.

A need for acceptance and inclusion can be used to manipulate or coerce a person to do something simply to please someone else.

The need to alleviate feelings of loneliness can lead a child to divulge personal information, especially if the other person shares a personal story about their loneliness.

Unfortunately, a new friend connection could be a scammer or predator. Or, they may be pretending to be a legitimate friend.  This is the essence of what exploitation is. It’s the preying on vulnerable emotions and fears to get something from the someone else.

Understanding the Risks

Before delving into protective measures, it’s important to understand the various ways in which children can be exploited on social media platforms.

Cyberbullying:

Children may encounter harassment, intimidation, or humiliation from peers, causing profound emotional distress and psychological harm. This can occur through texts, social media, and online games. The anonymity of the internet often emboldens bullies,

Predatory Behavior:

Online predators often disguise their identities to manipulate children into engaging in inappropriate or harmful activities, posing a significant threat to their safety.  If the predator lives in the area, it can lead to a personal encounter.

Exposure to Inappropriate Content:

The unrestricted nature of social media exposes children to explicit material, including violence, pornography, and hate speech, which can adversely impact their development and worldview. This can lead a child to also share personal photos of themselves.

Infringement of Privacy:

Parents should not assume that strict privacy settings are enough.  Children, not fully understanding the importance of personal privacy, may share too much online. This oversharing can lead to identity theft, stalking or being targeted by manipulative ads.

Social Media Exploitation Methods

We’ve been focusing on social media as one of the platforms where perpetrators seek out their victims, but methods of exploration go beyond your child’s favorite app.  Social engineering is the term used for any type of manipulation, online or off, using social media or another means.

Predatory Behavior and Social Engineering

Predators on the internet often employ social engineering tactics on social media such as:

  • Phishing: Using deceptive messages to trick children into providing personal information or downloading malicious software. These messages often appear to be from trusted sources, making it difficult for young users to recognize the danger.
  • Pretexting: Creating a fabricated scenario or identity to gain a child’s trust. For example, an attacker might pose as a school official or new friend to solicit personal details or sensitive information.
  • Baiting: Offering something enticing – like a free download or access to exclusive content – that leads to harmful sites or prompts children to share private data.

These methods are closely linked to other predatory behaviors where adults or older children manipulate vulnerable kids into unsafe situations. This manipulation often involves coaxing them to share personal information or engage in inappropriate activities, exploiting their trust and vulnerability.

Other methods used beyond social media include:

  • Quid pro quo: Similar to baiting, it is the exchange of information between two people.  “I’ll tell you a secret and me and then you tell me one”.
  • Impersonation: Pretending to be someone else, either in person, over the phone, or online, to gain trust and extract information or access.
  • Reverse social engineering: Manipulating a target into contacting the social engineer first, often by planting false information online or creating a situation where the target feels compelled to reach out.
  • Shoulder surfing: Observing someone as they enter passwords or PINs on their devices or at ATMs, allowing the attacker to gain unauthorized access.

These methods can be used individually or in combination to exploit human psychology and trust in order to achieve the social engineer’s objectives.

Tips for Protecting Children Online

Parents play a crucial role in educating their children about the potential dangers of social media. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, there are several standards that can help if followed. Discuss the dangers shared above in this article.  Younger children may be to young for you to go into great detail. In those cases, a parent should fully monitor their activities.  Be aware of their personal connections and monitors their interactions without exception.

As children grow, they will need a safe level of freedom to make independent decisions.  This is were parents need to get into the nitty gritty with their child or teen about what dangers await online.  They need to be aware that not everything may be as it appears.

Whether you’re a child, teen, or adult there is no reason for anyone to share personally compromising information online to a close friend.  Those conversations should be held exclusively offline face to face.  Not via text or messaging apps.  Even a phone call may be compromised if AI is used to mimic a voice.

Set age-appropriate limits on screen time

Establish clear guidelines for screen time and social media usage based on the child’s age and maturity level. Creating designated tech-free zones and times in the home — such as during family meals or before bedtime — can help as well while also promoting quality time together and reducing reliance on screens.

Monitor Online Activities

Keep track of online activities, including the websites children visit, the apps in use and any interactions with others on social media. Consider utilizing parental control features offered to restrict access to inappropriate content and track online behavior.

Teach Critical Thinking Skills

Help children develop critical thinking skills, especially when it comes to evaluating online content. Teach them to question the credibility of information, recognize fake news and discern between reliable and unreliable sources.

Educate About Privacy Settings

Go over privacy settings on social media platforms as well as how to adjust them to control who can see posts and information. Encourage children to set their profiles to private and only accept friend requests from people they know in real life.

Discuss Online Risks and Consequences

Have age-appropriate conversations about the potential risks of social media – such as cyberbullying, online predators and the permanence of digital footprints. Help children understand the consequences of sharing personal information online.

Model Healthy Online Behavior

Lead by example and demonstrate healthy online behavior. Show children how to use social media responsibly, respectfully interact with others online and prioritize offline activities and face-to-face interactions.

Guide Your Child Through Online Interactions

Navigating the online world can sometimes be tricky for kids, and as parents, it’s our job to be their compass. If you notice your child might be getting a little too adventurous online, perhaps stepping into roles they shouldn’t – such as being overly bossy, rude or even a bully themselves – it’s a great opportunity for a heart-to-heart. Chat about the power of kindness and the impact of actions both online and offline.

If your child has been mistreated online, there are mental health counselors and other professionals trained to handle these types of situations. Remember, help is just a conversation away.

Empowering Safe Digital Exploration

While social media offers many benefits, it’s important to be proactive about safeguarding our children from its potential dangers. By educating ourselves and our kids, setting clear guidelines and staying engaged with their digital lives, we can help them enjoy the benefits of social media without falling prey to its risks. Let’s work together to create a safer digital environment for all our children.

Author Bio:
Carolyn Ball, LCPC, is the founder of Elevate Counseling + Wellness. Her goal is to help people elevate their lives and reach their maximum potential. She has an understanding of the significance of mental health in a person’s overall well-being, and is passionate about assisting others in living their best version of themselves. 

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