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According to the U.S. Surgeon General, teens age 13 and under shouldn’t be on social media. It’s simply too dangerous for them at such an early age when they are still developing and discovering their identities. But the big social media companies aren’t paying attention. As they see it, kids as young as 13 have every right to be on social media. But as we are starting to see, this approach could have disastrous consequences when it comes to mental and physical disorders in young children.
Another reason why young teens shouldn’t be on social media
The new problem on everyone’s mind is eating disorders. Right now, kids as young as 9 or 10 years old are going on social media, and then getting deluged with content that encourages negative eating behaviors. For example, over-edited and heavily filtered photos of social media influencers are enough to convince many young teens that they should go on a diet, or perhaps take even more severe steps. Weight loss challenges, for example, are now big on social media, as are fad diets promising the ability to lose weight quickly.
When you add all that together with the likelihood that you’ll be subjected to criticism and perhaps even ridicule if you post photos of your body on social media, it’s easy to see why social media has become a dangerous new digital playground. According to one study, within 30 minutes of joining TikTok, you can expect to run across videos that fall under the category of “eating disorder content.” And, since these platforms do a terrible job of screening for who’s actually signing up and using their platforms, that opens up the very real possibility that content that might even make adults squirm (such as “purge” videos) is being shown to kids who haven’t even finished grade school.
What can parents do?
The situation is not impossible, however. There are plenty of nonprofit organizations that are willing to help. One of the key things they counsel is for parents and kids to have a serious talk about social media. And the sooner the better. Kids need to be made aware that much of what they see online is not realistic, and they can’t possibly be asked to live up to unrealistic expectations. Yes, there may be beauty pageant winners online, but the normal, everyday school kid doesn’t need to follow their fashion and diet advice.
Which leads us to the second-best piece of advice for parents: encourage your teens only to follow “real” people on social media. Like their friends, for example. They shouldn’t have an Instagram feed filled with a carefully curated list of influencers and celebrities. That’s going to get really toxic, rally fast.
And, finally, if you are going to let your young kids on social media, you really need to limit how much time they spend online. If they are scrolling through endless feeds for hours at a time, that is going to take a toll not only on their psyche, but also on their sleep schedules, their homework, and their extracurricular activities.
Recognize the signs
At the end of the day, there’s no way to screen out all the eating disorder content out there. It’s everywhere. But you can take serious steps to recognize all the signs of a young child exposed to too much of this content at one time. Are they suddenly preoccupied with what they eat, or how much they weigh? Are they skipping meals all of a sudden? Are they showing signs of caring too much about the way they look, or how others perceive them?
There’s no way to know how much of an impact social media is really having on the lives of young teens. It’s all just so new. But what we do know, doesn’t look good. Social media, when consumed at too young of an age, can have terrible consequences for one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Thirteen is just too young, and it’s time for the big social media companies to realize this.