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The American Psychological Association released a report urging technology companies and legislators to do more to protect adolescents’ mental health while using social media. The report highlighted the risks associated with social media platforms, such as endless scrolling and push notifications, which can be particularly harmful to young people due to their developing brains. These features can lead to addictive behaviors and distractions, impacting teens’ real-life interactions, schoolwork, and sleep. More than half of adolescents report at least one symptom of clinical dependency on social media, emphasizing the need for change.

The report did not offer specific suggestions for changes that social media companies could implement, but APA chief science officer Mitch Prinstein mentioned one option could be to alter the default settings for children’s accounts, disabling functions like endless scrolling or alerts. Despite the APA issuing health advisories and recommendations to minimize online exposure to cyberbullying and cyberhate, technology companies have made few meaningful changes, and no federal policies have been adopted. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, has implemented some changes, such as parental supervision tools and hiding sensitive search results but more actions are needed to ensure children’s safety.

There is broader concern over the impact of social media on young people, as evidenced by laws passed in Florida and proposed in California to protect minors from social media addiction. Dozens of states have also sued Meta for features that harm children’s mental health. The release of “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,” a book by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, has brought further attention to the issue. The book argues that smartphones and social media have contributed to an increase in anxiety, depression, and self-harm among adolescents.

Prinstein emphasized that it is the responsibility of technology companies to safeguard their youngest users, but parents can also play a role in protecting their children’s mental health. He recommended setting limits on device use, such as placing all devices on top of the refrigerator at 9 p.m. each night to encourage better sleep habits. Parents can also restrict or delay their child’s use of social media to mitigate potential negative consequences. Overall, the report stresses the importance of taking action to address the risks associated with social media use among adolescents and the need for continued efforts to protect young people’s mental health.

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