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10 Facts About Kids and Teens on Social Media

May 1, 2024

Teenager sitting in the dark staring at her phone

United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, outlined an advisory about social media that states “…there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health.”

“There’s no question that social media presents a number of potential dangers for our young people,” says Christopher Lynch, PhD, a psychologist at Atlantic Health System. “As parents, concerned citizens, or legislators, it is our responsibility to protect our kids.”

Dr. Lynch shares some sobering statistics that may make you think twice about when — and how — to give your child access to social media’s mix of content, comments and communities.

  1. Social media has crept into most communication and gaming tools: Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and apps you may not know your kids are using like Twitch or Discord. If a child has an internet connection, they have access to online communities.
  2. The Common Sense Census shows that kids are using social media at younger ages, with notable growth between ages eight to 12. By age 10, approximately 40% of children have a phone. By age 14, that number climbs to 91%.
  3. The same Census shows that nearly one in five tweens, between ages nine and 12, say they use social media every day, despite the regulations for most apps that require children to be at least 13 years old to use them.
  4. According to a recent Gallup poll, almost half of all teenagers spend at least four hours each day on social media, which affects sleep, attention, academic performance and physical fitness, and contributes to social isolation.
  5. Physical injuries from social media and cellphone use include joint inflammation, text neck, gamer’s thumb, and short- and long-term vision damage.
  6. The FBI estimates that, at any given time, there are 500,000 sexual predators online scouring social media profiles, often posing as children ages 12 to 15 when searching for victims.
  7. Short-form content (bursts of stimulation of about three to five seconds) and the use of algorithms are two ways that social media companies keep children online by releasing dopamine in the brain and making them lose track of time.
  8. Three common online threats that are dangerous and can sometimes fatal: viral challenges, cyberbullying and blackmail.
  9. A recent Parents Together survey indicates that nearly half of American teens use beauty filters at least once a week. When kids compare themselves to these false images and lifestyles, it damages their self-esteem.
  10. The more time teens spend on social media, the more likely they are to report being dissatisfied with how they look when it comes to weight and overall appearance.

What Can Parents Do About It?

Rather than waiting for a problem to arise, Dr. Lynch encourages parents to talk about online safety when you first give your child a cellphone or download their first apps. He stresses the importance of staying close to trends and talking about them with your children — always keeping an eye out for red flags:

  • Withdrawal from non-electronic activities they previously enjoyed
  • Excessive scrolling through negative content
  • An increased concern about their physical appearance

Here are a few other ways you can control and limit your child’s cellphone use:

  • Set no-phone zones for sleep, meals and schoolwork.
  • Engage in non-electronic activities together as a family.
  • Give kids phones with limited capabilities until they are older and better able to manage social media.
  • Set-up restricted filters and parent monitoring.
  • Be a role model, set a good example with your own cellphone use.
  • Be aware of what they’re using and potential dangers.
  • Get and keep a dialogue going about what apps they use and how they’re feeling; talk about risks.
  • Help your child understand tactics that social media companies use to keep them on.

“Impulse control is not fully developed in the adolescent brain, and kids may not fully understand the consequences of posting something inappropriate online,” says Dr. Lynch. “Social pressure can compel kids to endlessly seek positive reinforcement through likes, comments and follows. It also has them comparing themselves to false images of people who always seem to be more attractive and having more fun. This is hard on anyone’s self-esteem.”

Be Proactive About Your Health

To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.

  • Mental Wellness
  • Children's Health