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Download new APA Social Media Guidelines for Teens

Today, the American Psychological Association released its 10 science-backed recommendations for social media use for teens. Read the summary below, and download the document itself here.

APA (2023) American Psychological Association Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescence (May, 9)

It’s helpful that the recommendations do not demonise, catastrophize, or make sweeping generalisations about social media effects, and the document opens with the consistent finding that “Using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people“. It’s also helpful that the recommendations focus on the need for training, coaching and digital literacy. I’d have liked to have more of a specific emphasis on the attention economy and reality-distorting nature of social media feeds and the potential to exacerbate negativity bias with grievances, polarisation and extremism.

Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescence 2023 (APA)

  1. Promote Supportive Functions: Encourage youth to use social media features that foster social support, companionship, and emotional intimacy, especially during periods of stress, social isolation, or for those experiencing mental health challenges.
  2. Tailor Design for Developmental Needs: Customize social media functionality, permissions, and alerts to match the cognitive and social abilities of adolescent users, including age-appropriate explanations of privacy and data usage.
  3. Gradually Increase Autonomy with Monitoring: For early adolescents, implement adult monitoring, discussion, and coaching around social media content, gradually increasing autonomy as digital literacy skills develop while respecting privacy needs.
  4. Minimize Exposure to Harmful Content: Limit adolescents’ exposure to content promoting illegal or psychologically maladaptive behavior, ensure easy reporting and removal of such content, and avoid driving users towards it.
  5. Combat Cyberhate: Actively minimize exposure to cyberhate and cyberbullying, especially towards marginalized groups or individuals, and educate adolescents to recognize and critique online structural racism and discriminatory messages.
  6. Screen for Problematic Social Media Use: Regularly check for signs of problematic social media use that may impair daily functioning and present long-term psychological risks, and encourage a balanced approach to online and in-person interactions.
  7. Prioritize Sleep and Physical Activity: Limit social media use to prevent interference with adolescents’ sleep schedules and physical activity, ensuring at least 8 hours of sleep each night and ample opportunities for exercise.
  8. Limit Social Comparison: Encourage adolescents to avoid social comparison, especially regarding beauty or appearance, as it can negatively impact body image, self-esteem, and mental health.
  9. Develop Social Media Literacy: Offer training in social media literacy to ensure adolescents develop psychologically-informed competencies and skills for balanced, safe, and meaningful social media use.
  10. Invest in Research on Social Media Impact: Allocate significant resources for ongoing scientific examination of social media’s positive and negative effects on adolescent development, including long-term studies, research on younger children, and marginalized populations. Encourage data sharing between tech companies and independent scientists for comprehensive analysis.

Nearly as interesting as the recommendations themselves are the six considerations that went into putting the recommendations together.

  • Social Media Impact: Using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people, and any effects depend on personal characteristics, social circumstances, and platform features.
    • This one’s worth quoting, and remembering in full: “Using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people. Adolescents’ lives online both reflect and impact their offline lives. In most cases, the effects of social media are dependent on adolescents’ own personal and psychological characteristics and social circumstances—intersecting with the specific content, features, or functions that are afforded within many social media platforms. In other words, the effects of social media likely depend on what teens can do and see online, teens’ pre-existing strengths or vulnerabilities, and the contexts in which they grow up“.
  • Online Experiences: Adolescents’ online experiences are shaped by their choices and platform features (both visible and unknown).
  • Individual Differences: Scientific findings should be combined with knowledge of specific youths’ context for tailored decisions.
  • Gradual Adolescent Development: Age-appropriate social media use should consider adolescents’ maturity and home environment.
  • Racism in Social Media: Platforms can embed racism in algorithms, leading to community-building around hate and offline violence.
  • Research Basis and Limitations: Recommendations rely on psychological science and related disciplines, but limitations include causal evidence scarcity, lack of long-term studies, and underrepresentation of marginalized populations.
Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.