U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said he believed 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms. Although sites such as Twitter and Meta allow users of that age to join, he argued that children are still “developing their identity.”
This may be a hard pill to swallow, as social media has become an integral part of many teens’ lives today. A Pew Research Center survey found that 25% of 13- to 17-year-olds are online almost constantly, with 97% of those using social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.
Being among the first generation to grow-up with social media, many of us could probably agree that we joined the apps a little younger than we now think is appropriate. But the things that were introduced to us in the early 2000s were so nuanced and we didn’t have much information on how they could harm us.
And honestly, would that have even been at the forefront of conversations then?
There were no ads on Instagram, additional in-app interactions like story posts and you couldn’t link accounts across platforms. It was a time when the internet offered exciting, new ways to meet others and people could follow their favorite celebrities from cable TV.
However, we now know a lot more about how these tech agents use our data against us. Ads are strictly designed for users’ self-interest, apps intentionally overwhelm us with content to keep us engaged and people are easier to find online than ever before.
With the power and influence these corporations hold, I no longer believe that people have much autonomy over their online engagements. Corporations are always looking for the hottest thing to reel in the masses.
And young people are the most vulnerable party to their desired outcomes. I genuinely wonder how 13-year-olds of today are able to balance their spare time, mental health and social media. Between everchanging fashion trends and the popularization of cancel culture, I can’t understand how the youth see each other as people and not just internet bots.
Many of the potential risks of social media on their mental health go overlooked as well. Young teens are experiencing higher rates of distraction, sleep disruption, exposure to bullying or rumor spreading, unrealistic perceptions of other people’s lives and peer pressure.
These are among a few of the hot-topics researchers bring up when discussing the negative effects. Fortunately though, most of these consequences can be remedied through oversight from an adult figure or self-discipline tactics.
Potential remedies have not only been illustrated by professional experiments, but also through my fellow peers. When my friends discuss their decisions to delete social media, there’s always a common theme of improved mental health — including improved sleep, concentration and self-confidence.
Yet, other consequences can present more daunting impacts.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, obsessive use of social media in adolescents can increase the likelihood of disrupted proper mental functions or being diagnosed with an impulsive disorder, ADHD, paranoia and loneliness.
Does this mean that we are complete slaves to the major tech giants though? Well, no.
As a young adult, I can look past these smoke and mirrors. I notice when Tiktok has consumed too much of my time, or how Snapchat’s in-house design debilitates my ability to communicate with others on the app.
But that method is not always as clear cut for everyone.
Some tips for emerging adults include setting their own time limits on social media, being cognizant of how the media is affecting their self-image and avoiding negative feedback loops that continually reinforce themselves.
However, we can continue to keep the youth safe from these same traps by monitoring their usage, enforcing social media guidelines and setting a stellar example of appropriate social media use ourselves.