Is Social Media Bad for Kids?
Lawmakers in northern Texas have recently proposed a bill to ban social media for under 18s, in a bid that would see parents being asked to remove children from social media websites. The proposal has refueled discussions about the risks and effects of social media on children. But while the safety of our younger generation is paramount, is banning social media together really the way forward?
Most social media apps require users to be over 13 years old, but there is no surefire way to verify it. In other words, there is nothing to stop children from entering a fake birthdate to access popular apps. The proposed ban would require users to upload a photo ID for age verification before allowing them to create an account.
What is social media and why is it important?
Humans are social beings — we crave connection and interaction with other humans. The internet has made it possible for us to communicate with people from every corner of the world, which was simply unthinkable just a few years ago. Moreover, faster, more stable internet connections allow people in remote areas to go online. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted our need for human interaction, and the internet was a solace for many suffering from loneliness during intense lockdowns.
Social media apps are hugely popular among children today. They use them to chat with classmates, research interesting topics, and keep in touch with family. Popular social media apps include Snapchat, TikTok, WhatsApp, and Instagram. But what was once intended as a convenient way to communicate has now turned into a minefield of photos, videos, and stories.
Is the design and purpose of social media apps bad for kids?
We live in a fast-paced world where people expect instant access to information — and kids are no exception. They want to be part of an online world that shows them funny videos and the latest trends at the touch of a button. In short, they want to fit in with their peers. But this fear of missing out on what’s cool can lead to a social media addiction that is hard to break.
As they are still developing, kids tend to lack self-discipline and find regulating their time and priorities difficult. Social media only exasperates this further, which causes addiction. The mix of an easily accessible online world and intense societal pressure makes it hard for kids to switch off.
While it’s true that social media can educate kids about important topics and social causes, apps can be incredibly distracting and negatively impact concentration. Trying to do homework or study for exams while receiving message notifications is near impossible, and getting a good night’s sleep is out of the question.
How does social media affect mental health?
Social media and mental health discussions have become increasingly common in recent years, but why is social media bad for kids?
1) Increased risk of eating disorders and low self-esteem
They say comparison is the thief of joy, which is certainly true for social media. Image filters and editing software give children unrealistic ideals, which means they compare themselves with something that simply doesn’t exist. In fact, a recent study showed 32% of teenage girls said the social media platform Instagram worsened their body image.
Makeup trends and dangerous diet advice can seep into childrens’ innocent minds, increasing the risk of eating disorders and negative body image. Social media is full of quick fixes for perceived flaws, causing children to fixate on their bodies and try to change them in ways that can be unhealthy or risky.
2) Social media and cyberbullying go hand in hand
Cyberbullying on social media is rife, and sitting behind a computer screen gives people the confidence to say hurtful things they wouldn’t dare say in person. Bullying is a sad reality of life, but cyberbullying can take an even darker turn, exposing children to hurtful name-calling and physical threats.
As a staggering 58.4% of the world’s population now uses social media, hurtful comments on photos or videos or threats via messaging apps are increasingly common. According to Statista, 42% of teenagers in the United States have experienced offensive name-calling online. Cyberbullies usually target victims through fake accounts, making it difficult to track down perpetrators. To make matters worse, parents are usually unaware bullying is going on.
3) Online predators lurk on social media platforms
Being able to hide behind the safety of a computer screen makes it difficult to know who you are talking with. It is easy to create fake accounts and online personas, and predators often pose as children to gain the trust of other children. These dangerous predators use the dark web to pick up abnormal ideas, and then turn to social media to make them a reality. Unfortunately, social media has become a predator’s playground.
While most people feel they would be able to sniff out an online predator, the reality is online grooming or abuse often goes unnoticed before it is too late. Innocent children can share personal details and even their location without considering who can see it, which is all an online predator needs to target their prey.
Are there any positive effects of social media on children?
It can seem like the negative effects of social media on children outweigh the positive. But when used correctly, social media can be a great space for children to socialize, have fun, and get involved with events. It teaches them how to communicate respectfully and helps them develop relationships with family and friends. It also provides a safe haven for children with disabilities or other conditions that can make them feel isolated in the offline world.
Children can use social media to explore hobbies and interests. Social media platforms such as TikTok are full of short, informative videos that show children how to make fun things. This expands their learning potential and enhances creativity.
Is banning social media for kids realistic?
Social media is so integrated into our daily lives we barely notice it is there. Nowadays, it seems like there is an app for everything, and tech-savvy children are used to using social media to access information. Unfortunately, our world is now so reliant on social media that it may be impossible to ban it entirely.
Kids needed ways to interact with their peers during lonesome Covid-19 lockdowns, and social media provided the solution. Now restrictions have eased, social media apps are used to make plans and chat about schoolwork.
So, while a total ban on social media for kids may be difficult to achieve, parental controls and enhanced parental awareness are necessary.
What are some alternatives to banning social media?
While it is impossible to control what others post online, it is possible to protect children from the negative effects of social media. Open communication about the risks of social media can be helpful, as well as when and how long children can use it. Activating parental controls and moderating chats and online interactions all help to spot signs of cyberbullying or potential grooming.
Putting together a social media plan with children is a constructive way to educate them about potential dangers and what can be shared online. Moreover, encouraging kids to use apps such as Be Real promote mental health and help to protect them online.
While social media isn’t necessarily bad for kids, unsupervised access and overexposure certainly are. Setting social media boundaries and educating children about the dangers of social media is the first step toward creating an online space for kids.
Jeni is a translator and writer based in Taiwan. She is passionate about business development and loves helping companies enter international markets. She is fluent in English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, and combines these with her industry experience to provide practical market entry solutions.