Not surprisingly, 95% of youth ages 13-17 use social media platforms and over a third say that they use it “almost constantly” . In May an advisory about the effects of social media use on the mental health of young people was released by the US Surgeon General. While the associations between adolescents’ social media use and long-term outcomes are largely unknown, this advisory sounds the alarm to the “increasing concerns among researchers, parents and caregivers, young people, healthcare experts, and others about the impact of social media on youth mental health.”
It’s important to note that social media use is neither inherently beneficial or harmful to young people and an individual’s experience of social media is shaped by whom they choose to interact with as well as features built into social media platforms that are often unseen. Due to early adolescence being a heightened time of transition and vulnerability the potential risks are likely greater than in later adolescence and young adulthood . Primary care practitioners are in an important position to offer guidance to families on healthy social media use starting in early adolescence.
Encourage young people to use social media functions that create opportunities for healthy socialization. Ask young people how they use social media day to day and encourage them to think about how that use does or does not support their important need for social support, companionship and emotional intimacy. Passively scrolling feeds and liking posts tends to provide immediate reward but lacks the components necessary for healthy socialization. Encourage youth to use social media tools such as direct messaging that will help depict themselves honestly and feel a true connection to others.
Recommend adult monitoring and coaching in early adolescence. Offer guidance to parents about creating a plan with their child for reviewing consumed and posted content, discussing and coaching around content and teaching digital literacy skills. For example, digital literacy skills can include questioning the accuracy and representativeness of social media content and signs of problematic social media use. Monitoring should be balanced with the youth’s appropriate need for privacy.
Consider family norms for social media use. A parent’s own use and attitudes of social media has been shown to influence how the adolescent uses social media. For example, being distracted from in-person family interactions because of social media use.
Ensure that social media use is not interfering with sleep and physical activity. Routinely screen for signs of “problematic social media use” that can impair their ability to engage in daily functions and roles.
The following resources provide practical information and talking points when discussing social media use with parents and young people:
Child Mind– Information about when kids are ready for social media and how to monitor social media use when they are starting out.