Social Media Poses Numerous Risks to Young Minds, Change ‘Needed Soon’, New Study Warns

by EditorK
The new report from the APA warns that kids are particularly vulnerable to harm from social media. But age requirements aren’t enough, says one expert.

Children’s developing minds are at risk from social media stimuli, experts say. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images)

Patricia Tolson
By Patricia Tolson 

A new study reveals that social media platforms pose several risks for young children and offers a warning that “change is needed soon.”

The latest report from the American Psychological Association (APA) warns that social media platforms developed for adults are not inherently appropriate for children. Young minds require a higher level of protection due to their mental and emotional vulnerabilities, the April report warns. This is particularly important for children who are already suffering from mental health issues or other developmental challenges.

“Chronological age,” the study warns, “is not directly associated with social media readiness.”

Despite efforts by state lawmakers to set standards to shield minors from harm online, the APA says few meaningful improvements have been made to social media platforms by the tech industry to protect children and no policies have been enacted at the federal level.

Making the challenge more difficult, tech lobbying organizations like NetChoice actively fight against state efforts to impose restrictions on social media access for children.

According to the APA, brain development for children—starting around the ages of 10 to 13 until sometime in their mid-20s—is associated with hypersensitivity to social feedback.

Simply put, children are inherently drawn toward things that will bring them attention, favorable feedback, and praise from their peers.

AI-recommended content—such as images and videos generated or modified on social media platforms like TikTok—can be particularly influential and addictive for children.

Children are also easily swayed by peer influence and easily damaged by rejection.

They are less capable of controlling their impulses and find it difficult to stop themselves from engaging in behavior that may give them a temporary feeling of satisfaction, even if they are aware of possible, longer-term negative consequences.

This lack of self-control can lead children to make decisions based on instant gratification, which exposes them to the dangers of online predators and engaging in acts of self-harm,

As the APA noted in its May 2023 health advisory, the use of social media in itself is not inherently beneficial or harmful to children. The effects it has on a child depend on what they do and see online, their pre-existing strengths or vulnerabilities, and the environment in which they grow up.

According to the APA, “Change is needed soon.”

‘It’s an Epidemic’

Jake Denton, a research associate in the Tech Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation, says the idea that children somehow become ready for exposure to social media at a particular age is “ludicrous.”

“The average adult can’t resist the algorithmic targeting and features like infinite scroll and chasing likes and followers,” he told The Epoch Times. “It sucks in even the strongest of adults. The idea that a child will be ready for this has always been crazy.”

He noted that there are few safety features for children on social media and for those that do exist, children are adept at finding their way around them.

“Snapchat claims to have a ‘family-friendly tool kit,’ but it’s ostensibly worthless when the parents have no idea how [it functions],” he added. “So, the kids are using the adult versions and just about every study that comes out shows that their mental health is far worse off for it.”

Whether it’s sleep deprivation, an eating disorder, or suicidal thoughts, Mr. Denton says the effects of social media on children are symptoms of a much more serious disease.

“These platforms are attacking the developing brains of these children and while the signs appear different for each child it’s the same problem,” he said. “No child should be on their phone for hours on end with micro-targeted content being pushed to them based on a psychological profile.”

Mr. Denton said it isn’t uncommon to see clusters of children with their faces buried in their devices, texting each other rather than engaging with each other face-to-face.

When these children grow up and are forced to enter the real world, he said they are incapable of interacting with other humans.

“The biggest defense you will hear about social media is that it makes us more connected,” he said. “But anyone who has been in the real world for the past 20 years knows that these platforms have driven us farther apart.”

He said many adults would rather bury their heads in a messaging thread on a social media feed than look up and talk to the person across from them. But it’s more crucial for a child to engage in the formative experience of bonding with their classmates rather than chatting on their phone or playing a game.

“They lack the average social skills others grew up with,” he said. “You don’t need a study to tell you there’s something wrong with this dynamic.”

He said parents need to understand that they do not have to give their children devices and free access to the digital domain.

He cautions parents that they should get their faces out of their devices too.

“You see it every day when you’re walking around town,” he said. “You see entire families out with their faces buried in their phones. Kids are just following the lead of their parents. It’s an epidemic that’s plaguing families, not just the children. It just happens to have more adverse effects on children. It’s worse when you have a parent who is equally addicted. They have nowhere to go.”

‘They Need Affirmation’

Julie Quist is the board chair of the Child Protection League

In an interview with The Epoch Times, Ms. Quist said it’s clear there has yet to be an effective way of addressing the dangers posed to young children on social media.

She cited the APA’s 2023 health advisory, saying, “It’s clear at this point that children are suffering mental health problems.”

While social media isn’t the only contributor, she said it does play a tremendous role in children’s development.

“A lot of it has to do with indoctrinating them into certain ways of thinking, so it’s important to understand how this can be addressed from a social media perspective,” she said.

Ms. Quist noted that children’s brains are not fully developed, so the reaction of a child’s brains to stimuli is quite different from the reaction of a mature brain. In addition, social media platforms are designed to be addictive, she noted. Studies show that adolescents are particularly vulnerable to social media addiction.

“They need things like followers,” she said. “How many likes do they have? How many friends do they have? They need affirmation.”

When they aren’t getting positive social feedback, she said it impacts them psychologically “in a deep way.”

It makes them insecure; it makes them vulnerable, and it makes them grab onto anything that will give them security. That’s not always positive.

Instead of building relationships in the real world, she said, today’s children are feeding their addiction by getting likes and being successful at the games they play online.

Instead of sleeping, they’re scrolling for reactions. Boredom leads to scrolling. Texting leads to sexting, and this makes them vulnerable to dangerous people.

Ultimately, Ms. Quist said age requirements and parental controls will only do so much. She said parents need to engage with their children. They need to talk to them, face-to-face, about the qualities and goals that people should aspire to in life.

“If we don’t,” she warned, “the social media crowd will set the standards.”

Patricia Tolson, an award-winning national investigative reporter with 20 years of experience, has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo!, U.S. News, and The Tampa Free Press. With The Epoch Times, Patricia’s in-depth investigative coverage of human interest stories, election policies, education, school boards, and parental rights has achieved international exposure. Send her your story ideas: 

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