Social Networks Are Neither Useful Nor Harmful for Children, However…

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Whether TikTok should be censored or not is one of the more active discussions at the moment. But the criticism directed at social networks started a few years ago with the popularization of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram… Due to the very fact that many Internet users spend a large part of their online time on social media, the platforms are often reviewed and analyzed by various organizations. As a result, experts try their hardest to assess the impact social networks have on different segments of life. This week, one of the most influential mental health organizations in the United States shared the results of its research.

The American Psychological Association (APA) shared some of its findings on its website. APA’s findings have shown that social networks are neither dangerous nor beneficial for children. From what we’ve read so far, the results shared from the APA’s research are less surprising as one might think. However, even though social networks as a platform are neutral, what will be the experience of adolescents will depend on the content they are exposed to…

“The use of social networks in itself is neither useful nor harmful for young people. Adolescents’ online lives reflect their offline lives. In most cases, the effects of social networks depend on one’s own personal and psychological characteristics and social circumstances – which intersects with specific content, features, or functionalities offered in most social networks. In other words, the effects of social networks likely depend on what teenagers do and see online, on pre-existing strengths or vulnerabilities, and on the environment in which they grow up.”

Although the platforms themselves are neutral, this does not mean that the experience is. Depending on whom they follow, and who they “like”, they will have a different experience. Unfortunately, this is only an “initial state”, and the final experience is significantly influenced by the algorithms that are “embedded” in these social networks. The algorithms themselves often have centuries of racist politics and discrimination built into them, the APA says.


Along with the assessment of the situation, the Association of Psychologists came out with recommendations for the safe use of social networks. Here are some of them:

  • Youth using social media should be encouraged to use functions that create opportunities for social support, online companionship, and emotional intimacy that can promote healthy socialization.
  • Social media use, functionality, and permissions/consenting should be tailored to youths’ developmental capabilities; designs created for adults may not be appropriate for children.
  • In early adolescence (i.e., typically 10–14 years), adult monitoring (i.e., ongoing review, discussion, and coaching around social media content) is advised for most youths’ social media use; autonomy may increase gradually as kids age and if they gain digital literacy skills. However, monitoring should be balanced with youths’ appropriate needs for privacy.
  • To minimize psychological harm, adolescents’ exposure to “cyberhate” including online discrimination, prejudice, hate, or cyberbullying especially directed toward a marginalized group (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, religious, ability status), or toward an individual because of their identity or allyship with a marginalized group should be minimized.
  • Adolescents should be routinely screened 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.
  • The use of social media should be limited so as to not interfere with adolescents’ sleep and physical activity.
  • Adolescents should limit use of social media for social comparison, particularly around beauty- or appearance-related content.
  • Adolescents’ social media use should be preceded by training in social media literacy to ensure that users have developed psychologically-informed competencies and skills that will maximize the chances for balanced, safe, and meaningful social media use.
  • Substantial resources should be provided for continued scientific examination of the positive and negative effects of social media on adolescent development.

Link to the full results.

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