Monday, May 8, 2023

American Psychological Association issues research-based recommendations for use of social media by young people

Shutterstock photo via The Conversation
The American Psychological Association has issued recommendations for adolescents' use of social media, noting that while the platforms can promote healthy socialization, young people should not use them until they have taken training in social media literacy to give them skills to have "balanced, safe and meaningful experiences," APA says.

Social media are “neither inherently harmful nor beneficial to our youth,” APA President Thema Bryant said. “But because young people mature at different rates, some are more vulnerable than others to the content and features on many social media platforms that science has demonstrated can influence healthy development. 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 appointed an advisory panel to issue the 10 recommendations, titled the American Psychological Association Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescence. It recommends psychological competencies that youth should possess before using social media, plus periodic booster training to minimize the chances for harm and maximize the benefits that social media can provide.

The advisory notes that not all findings apply equally to all youth: “Scientific findings offer one piece of information that can be used along with knowledge of specific youths’ strengths, weaknesses and context to make decisions that are tailored for each teen, family and community. 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.”

Among the report’s recommendations are:
  • Tailor social-media use, functionality and permissions to youths’ developmental capabilities; designs created for adults may not be appropriate for children.
  • Adults should monitor younger adolescents' social media use, including discussing and coaching about content. This should be balanced with youths’ appropriate needs for privacy. Autonomy may increase gradually as children age and gain more digital literacy.
  • Minimize adolescents’ exposure to social-media content that depicts illegal or psychologically maladaptive behavior, including content that instructs or encourages youth to engage in self-harm or high-risk behaviors or those that encourage eating-disordered behavior (such as restrictive eating, purging or excessive exercise).
  • Minimize adolescents’ exposure to online content that promotes discrimination, prejudice, hate or cyberbullying, especially directed toward groups targeted because of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability status.
  • Monitor adolescents for signs of problematic social media use that can impair their ability to engage in daily roles and routines and may present risk for more serious psychological harms over time.
  • Limit social media use so as not to interfere with adolescents’ sleep or physical activity, as each is required for healthy brain and psychological development.
  • Limit adolescents’ use of social media for primarily beauty- or appearance-related content.
The report acknolwledges that it is not yet possible to determine if social media harm youth. Relatively few studies have been conducted with youth from racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, socioeconomic or differently-abled populations, and/or youth with chronic developmental or health conditions.

Researchers at Baylor University in Texas recently reported that "immersion in a world created by the social media experience drives problematic social media behaviors and addiction." The report calls for “a substantial investment in research funding” and access to more data, including data from tech companies.

“We hope these recommendations will be helpful as we all try to keep pace with the rapidly shifting social media ecosystem,” APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr. said. “APA will continue to keep tabs on developments within the current and future platforms, with an eye toward safeguarding our youth and enabling them to benefit from the positive aspects of social media.”

The APA said its recommendations are based on scientific research in psychology and related disciplines, conducted with thousands of adolescents who completed standardized assessments of social, behavioral, psychological and/or neurological functioning, and reported engaging with specific social media functions or content, or were observed doing so.

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