As Digital Marketing Professionals, We Know
Ever Wondered About the Impact of Social Media on Kids and Teens?
In digital marketing this is a question we have been asked more lately – not just how marketing to the next generation will impact the bottom line, but how else it might be having an impact. At the end of 2019, we published a blog about artificial intelligence sharing our thoughts on the future – a lot has happened since then, but the ideas are just as applicable, if not more.
When we say social media, we are referring to any platform, website, or application where the users can create and share content. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat, and Twitch would all be examples, and there are many more.
Why talk about social media’s impact on teens specifically
1. Social media companies harness the brightest minds in the industry to compete for your attention.
2. Parents and adults often struggle to explain the impact on kids
3. Setting healthy boundaries with technology is increasingly difficult
4. Kids and teens are particularly vulnerable to new information as their brains are still developing.
The Not-So-Good News
First, using social media has been linked with an increased likelihood of depression and anxiety.
A few of the contributing factors to this include unavoidability of cyberbullying from strangers and peers, increased sense of loneliness (“social” doesn’t mean connected) and creating unfavorable comparison. Using social media creates a constant stream of situations a developing brain is not prepared to manage, both socially and informationally. When it comes to the comparison challenge, think Theodore Roosevelt’s quote “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Next, social media has a major impact on cognitive and social development. Studies have shown that preschoolers who use screens an hour a day show far less brain development for the regions of the brain responsible for literacy and language – meaning that learning to read, write and speak can be more of a challenge. Developmentally, social media also hinders the ability to problem solve and manage social interaction. If you have ever heard your kids say “But I am with my friends” while playing Roblox or Minecraft, remember that developmentally they are not getting any of the social skills they get in person. The last cognitive impact we want to point to is that social media often impacts impulse control and creates an instant gratification mindset – The need it now, the mindset has a lasting developmental impact and can impact behaviors like saving money or resolving conflict as an adult.
Lastly, screen-based media has been shown to impact physical health by impacting decision making. This is not the first time media has impacted healthy choices, beginning in the 1920s cigarettes shown in Hollywood films was a major contributor to the youth and adolescent smoking movement. The big difference between the 1920s or the uptick in home video release in the 1990s is the use of AI market and remarket products. Pair this with the use of influencers and you have the perfect storm. Consider that nearly half of the videos of the most popular kid influences included unhealthy snacks.
The reality is that kids see unhealthy foods, alcohol and products marketed to them by people they look up to, making it hard to know the difference between advertising and entertainment. Social media can often keep kids standing still (literally), eating unhealthy foods, and when age setting are not set appropriately even having alcohol promoted to them. If these seem like minimal impacts, consider this: over the past few years, several self-harm challenges have gone viral on TikTok some with over 200k views.
If this all seems a bit bleak, we have barely scratched the surface, but there are ways you can help your kids (and yourself) manage the impact of social media.
1. Pay attention to age restrictions on social media – Just like movies, apps have a rating. TikTok and Facebook are restricted to age 13+ with additional controls for digital wellbeing and age gating. If you use these settings, it will limit adult content such as alcohol marketing and other explicit content. You can also limit who your kids can interact with on social media.
2. Create an open dialogue with kids about what they see online – Studies show that over 80% of kids who are bullied online don’t tell an adult. Cyberbullying correlates with depression in teens and kids, as well as an increase in suicidal thoughts. Creating an open dialogue allows kids to come to you whether from bullying, inappropriate contact with strangers, and news and advisements they might see.
3. Don’t buy into the argument that screen time with friends is the same as healthy social interaction – Although it might be fun, screen time with friends is not the same as time with friends. When kids interact online instead of in person, they miss out on learning important social cues that can only be learned in people, such as facial expression, body language, and tone of voice – all data points we use to develop empathy.
4. If you have Apple devices set all apps to the “do not track” setting and use screen time limits – In recent years tech companies have realized that giving their consumers a bit more control of their data and helping them with healthy habits increases brand loyalty. We recommend you take a deep dive into these features and not just for your kids. Limiting app tracking will change the way apps market to you for the better and screen time limits will help you manage and learn more about media habits in your home. When it comes to screen time limits try co-creating them with your kids and remember that even doctors recommend kids under 2 don’t have any exposure to screens.
5. Practice gratitude with your kids. Gratitude is one of the best ways to counteract comparison. Remind kids that influencers are not living the same life as them – point them to areas of their life they are grateful for.
If you feel like this is a lot, don’t worry! Kids are way ahead of most adults on this stuff. In our research we found out that most senior executives at tech companies don’t even let their kids use social media – we felt that made this worth sharing. If you do feel behind, try letting your kids educate you on what they have learned, their brains are still developing so it is easier for them to learn about this stuff (don’t take it personally). We still love all the positive things that social media has brought us, and when used well we think it can be a force for good. Just keep in mind the recommendations we brought up and see how they can have a positive for you and your kids.