Parents’ Toxic Tech Dilemma
In December, Facebook rolled out a Messenger app for kids under 13, touting it as a tool to help young people facilitate relationships while giving parents some control, including the ability to approve the child’s friends. The move was intended to counter widening fears that social media can have an adverse effect on kids, but in the end, it only threw more fuel on the fire. Facebook was assailed by child health experts, who argued the app undermines healthy development in children, because elementary school-age kids simply aren’t ready to deal with the complexities that result from online relationships.
The Messenger Kids app renewed the debate from parents, mental health experts, policymakers and, increasingly, company executives, about the impact of technology on development and safety — as well as what responsibilities companies have over the way that kids and teens use their products. Popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, stated that they want to help, not hurt, young people.
The problem is that research on how technology — particularly social media, smartphones, and general screen time — affects youth development is spotty, and for all the public outcry, there is little evidence about how internet use changes kids’ brains. There have been fears that internet addiction has risen to the level of mental illness, but the American Psychiatric Association has decided that more research is necessary before recognizing it as a disorder.
“Social media companies show you things because they’re engaging. But what’s engaging isn’t necessarily what’s good for you.”
Some studies have found benefits to using technology; many others have linked social media and other technologies to worsening relationships, cyberbullying, poor body image, aggression, and depression. In late September 2018, a study published in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health found that limiting kids’ screen time to less than two hours a day was associated with better cognition.