Can social media hurt your kids? The Surgeon General thinks so
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy this week put out a new advisory on the harmful effects social media can have on children and adolescents.
Too much time spent on social media can hurt the mental health and well-being of our kids, according to the advisory.
Now, a research scientist who studies social media closely is weighing in on what this means for parents.
- A new advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General warns of the harmful effects social media can have on the well-being of kids and teens
- A psychologist from UPenn says parents should set boundaries
- Access to social media should be limited based on the age of the child
"We want to teach our children how to use these platforms wisely and safely and in a way that's going to facilitate their well-being rather than being detrimental to their well-being,” said Dr. Melissa Hunt, psychologist and associate director of clinical training at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Surgeon General said, “The most common question parents ask me is, ‘Is social media safe for my kids.’ The answer is that we don't have enough evidence to say it's safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health."
Findings from a study
In 2018, Hunt conducted a study that for the first time showed a link between time spent on social media platforms and people’s well-being. She said she now is in the process of publishing findings from a similar study conducted more recently.
“We need to make sure that whatever we're allowing them to do that it's developmentally appropriate and that we are balancing their right to privacy and autonomy, with our need to supervise and oversee what they're doing and obviously, that balance is going to change as they get older."Dr. Melissa Hunt, psychologist and associate director of clinical training at the University of Pennsylvania
Hunt said the answer is not to cut out time online completely, but rather to set boundaries for kids.
“We need to make sure that whatever we're allowing them to do that it's developmentally appropriate and that we are balancing their right to privacy and autonomy, with our need to supervise and oversee what they're doing and obviously, that balance is going to change as they get older,” she said.
Hunt said parents should start to introduce social media to kids around age 12 or 13 and adjust usage according to their age.
"As children become teens, some people think that's too young," she said. "I don't think it's too young. I think that that's exactly when you introduce it with lots of parental oversight and help and guidance.”
Advice to parents
She also gave advice to parents, saying they don’t need to watch every move an older child makes online, but for the younger kids, parents should be familiar with who their child follows and who follows their child.
Hunt also said checking the time spent on different apps on smartphones can be a useful tool to talk to kids about how they are spending their time.
She suggested having an open conversation with them, asking questions such as, “So how do you feel after you spend that kind of time? Do you think it's interfering with your friendships? Or is it letting you connect more?”
Hunt said that would help children in being more mindful and thoughtful.
She added parents also need to lead by example and should set social media boundaries for themselves, as well.
"As adults, we need to help our kids establish these limits. It cannot be on the child themselves just to exercise self-control and self-discipline."Dr. Melissa Hunt, psychologist and associate director of clinical training at the University of Pennsylvania
“As adults, we need to help our kids establish these limits," she said. "It cannot be on the child themselves just to exercise self-control and self-discipline."
Hunt suggested children and teens not have smartphones in school, at the dinner table or after 10 p.m. That's a good rule of thumb for adults as well, she said.
Hunt concluded by saying social media can be a useful tool to connect, but moderation is the key to successfully using it.
“Used correctly, it can facilitate connection and joy; used incorrectly, it can be incredibly toxic and harmful,” she said.