Is social media harming teens? A dive into the research cites risks but returns few hard answers #social #media #harming #teens #dive #researchcites #risksbut #returns #hard #answers

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released Wednesday grapples with the questions: Is social media harming teenagers? And what can Congress, the Education Department and parents do about it? 

The answers are murky. The authors surveyed hundreds of studies across more than a decade and came to complicated, occasionally contradictory, conclusions. 

On one hand, they found there isn’t enough population data to specifically blame social media for changes in adolescent health. On the other hand, as shown in study after study cited by the report, social media has the clear potential to hurt the health of teenagers, and in situations where a teenager is already experiencing difficulties like a mental health crisis, social media tends to make it worse. 

What is needed: more research and more coordination.

“There is much we still don’t know, but our report lays out a clear path forward for both pursuing the biggest unanswered questions about youth health and social media, and taking steps that can minimize the risk to young people using social media now,” Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health and chair of the committee behind the report, said in a news release.

“Our recommendations call on social media companies, Congress, federal agencies, and others to make changes that will protect and benefit young people who use social media,” he added.

Parents hoping for clear guidelines will have to keep waiting.

“The committee sympathizes with some parents’ desire for authoritative prescription on teenagers’ social media use but is also mindful of overreaching the data,” the report concludes. “Venturing hard and fast rules regarding teenagers’ use of social media, rules that the data cannot support, is not something this committee can do.”

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is an advisory group tasked by Congress with providing guidance on science-related issues.

But its report suggests that parents are closer than ever to arriving at effective strategies for navigating their families through the social media landscape. In the future, calculating the harms and potential benefits of social media will have to take place on a case-by-case basis, it suggests, taking into account factors that will vary widely from teenager to teenager and family to family. 

For instance, the report says that while middle school girls have been found to experience social anxiety, body dissatisfaction and depression when they compared themselves with others on social media, factors such as media literacy, supportive parents and a positive school environment lessened those negative effects.  

The ways social media is used seem to make a difference. When a teenager passively scrolls, as opposed to actively posting, that’s connected by many studies to low life satisfaction and feelings of sadness. It may be that showcasing a hobby or an interest on social media doesn’t produce the same harms. 

But those rates differ by demographic group: Black, non-Hispanic participants in one study reported more negative moods during active social media use, suggesting that the potential benefits of posting on social media are not the same for teenagers of all backgrounds.

And age affects how well certain strategies work. In younger children, a family policy that restricts social media except when it’s actively guided by a parent seems to reduce the risk of problematic use and inappropriate behavior online. But in adolescents, overly restrictive and controlling parental rules, like confiscating a phone for punishment, are often associated with that teenager taking more risks online. 

“Restrictions on media use are useful for young children,” the authors write, “while increased communication and awareness are more suitable and helpful for teenagers.”

Faced with an urgent need to “create a more transparent industry and a better-informed consumer of social media,” the report calls on companies and regulators to establish international standards, such as clear ways for companies to share data with researchers and accepted best practices to avoid proven harms where possible. 

It recommends that the International Organization for Standardization — a body that sets global rules in areas such as manufacturing and food safety — be tasked with creating a new system, one that could be used by federal and international agencies to track and evaluate social media companies and the algorithms they build. And it asks for funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other agencies to pay for the sort of large, long-term studies that have in the past identified major public health crises. 

#social #media #harming #teens #dive #researchcites #risksbut #returns #hard #answers

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