Social Media's Impact on Kids — What's Next for Tech?

Keeping kids safe on social media. Photo: Unsplash with Andrej Lisakov.

Social Media's Impact on Kids — What's Next for Tech?

During my four days at CES, I had the opportunty to attend only one panel discussion. I'm grateful that I chose to listen and watch this particular one in person.

A lengthy line of eager attendees had formed, all looking forward to hearing from the three distinguished speaker, including Mitch Prinstein from the American Psychological Association (APA), Megan Jones Bell from Google, and Ravi Iyer from the USC Marshall School's Neely Center. The panel was expertly hosted by Corbin Evans, senior director at APA.

L-R Corbin Evans, APA; Mitch Prinstein, APA; Megan Jones Bell, Google; Ravi Iyer USC Neely Cente

While my own children are now adults, I find myself thinking about the impact of electronic devices and the potential repercussions of allowing children to access social media platforms. This concern has taken on a greater signficance since I've become a grandparent.

The dynamics of social media engagement are vastly different for adults compared to the experiences of children and teenagers. Most adults, myself included, can navigate platforms like Instagram without getting caught up in the potential negative experiences. My personal journey with social media dates back to the early 2000s and I've been fortunate to encounter very few negative incidents. This contrast underscores the importance of distinguishing between adult, adolescent and pre-teen use.

Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D, Chief Science Officer at the APA

Mitch Prinstein talked to the audience about teenagers and their developing brains, and how they'pre particularly affected by social media. Even though these platforms were made for adults, kids use them a lot, and especially when their brains are changing the most.

Image: Mitch Prinstein, APA

The brain changes a lot during the teenage years. During this time, kids are more susceptible to influence by their peers. It happens when they're using social media a lot. Instead of settting specific screen time limits, scientists are studying how social media can affect kids in both good and bad ways. 

He talked about the need to look at what's on social media, learn how the platforms work, and how artificial intelligence plays a role. He suggests that parents should keep an eye on what their kids do online, and that tech companies should think about how their products affect young brains. (My note: I believe parents are more vigilant than a decade ago, but not all parents take the potential dangers seriously.)

Prinstein suggested that 'teaching kids how to use social media safely," should be part of the school curriculum. (My note: I'm not an educator, but I have an issue with integrating social media into schools. I see teachers asa being burdened with integrating societal changes, which has impacted their work as teachers. I don't know how many can handle "one more thing.")

Graphic: Mitch Prinstein, APA

The Bottom line is that the APA wants parents and educators to be thoughtful about how social media impacts kids, and take steps to keep them safe and healthy in the digital world. He shared ten recommendations for parents, platforms and policymakers, which are recapped here: 

10 Recommendations for Parents, Platforms and Policymakers

  1. Build and encourage use of functions that promote socialization
  2. Tailor platform design, functionality, and permissions to developmental capabilities
  3. Monitor use for early adolescents
  4. Remove content and minimize exposure to content that promotes illegal or psychological maladaptive behavior
  5. Remove content and minimize exposure to content that promotes prejudice, hate or cyberbullying
  6. Routinely screen for signs of problematic use
  7. Limit use that interferes with sleep and physical activity
  8. Limit use that encourages social comparison
  9. Precede use with training teens in social media literacy
  10. Provide resources for continued research on positive and negative effects of social media on development.
(More details found in the graphic, below)

Graphic: Mitch Prinstein, APA

Megan Jones Bell, PsyD, Clinical Director, Consumer and Mental Health, Google

Megan Jones Bell shard an overview of how Google approaches kids, and keeping their mental health in the spotlight.

    Graphic: Megan Jones Bell, Google

Google is all about creating online experiences that empower kids. Its goal is to provide enriching, safe, and age-appropriate online spaces that respect children’s unique needs while giving families control over technology. Jones Bell said Google builds these experiences with safety in mind from the start, 

She shared some recent work on YouTube, although efforts extend across Google products. 

    Graphic: Megan Jones Bell, Google

Kids' Mental Health Requires Special Protection Online

Parents and caregivers should have a say in how technology is used within their families. Every child deserves access to high-quality, age-appropriate content that suits their interests and needs. 

Children’s developmental needs differ from teenagers’, so tech should reflect that. 
With the proper safeguards, kids can benefit and use innovative technologies. 

Google has already introduced features like “take a break” and bedtime reminders in many Google products. Still, they’re enhancing them to be more effective by creating moments for pause and reflection. 

Graphic: Megan Jones Bell, Google

They’re also changing the way they recommend content, focusing on limiting repeated suggestions of videos that might promote unhealthy social comparisons or social aggression among young viewers. 

Graphic: Megan Jones Bell, Google

Google wants to ensure that the content they suggest is safe and positive. To support users during difficult moments, they’ve updated their crisis resource panel to encourage safer searches and offer crisis resources more prominently. This way, people are more likely to find help when needed. 

In terms of health information, they’re working to elevate high-quality mental health content for young teens by collaborating with experts and organizations like the World Health Organization. They’ve also partnered with Common Sense Networks to provide training and resources for creators, helping them make responsible and helpful content and promote digital well-being. 

These are just some of the steps they’re taking to create a safer and more enriching online environment for kids and teens. 

Graphic: Megan Jones Bell, Google

Ravi Iyer, Managing Director of the USC Marshall Schools' Neely Center

Ravi Iyer was present to discuss how we can design social media to have a positive impact on mental health. While social media isn’t solely responsible for mental health issues, there are ways to make it better for those who are affected negatively. Here are two key takeaways:

Platform Accountability: We should hold social media platforms accountable for their design choices, not just the content they host. Creating spaces that discourage harmful activities and incentivize positive ones is essential.
User Experience Surveys: We can use surveys to gauge user experiences and validate whether platforms improve their design. By listening to users’ concerns and feedback, we can ensure that the changes implemented align with their needs.

Graphic: Ravi Iyer, USC Marshall School's Neely Center

During his time at Facebook, he realized that existing policies didn’t cover some harmful behaviors, such as fear speech and subtle misinformation. They focused on design changes to address this, like removing engagement incentives that encouraged negative interactions. They also introduced rate and functionality limits to prevent a small group of users from dominating discussions.

Graphic: Ravi Iyer, USC Marshall School's Neely Center

These ideas have been compiled into a design code for social media, similar to building codes. While preventing every bad thing from happening online is impossible, we can hold platforms responsible if their design choices promote harmful behavior.

By doing so, we aim to empower users to engage with content that aligns with their aspirations rather than just what grabs their attention.

Graphic: Ravi Iyer, USC Marshall School's Neely Center

Iyer says we’ve started measuring user experiences by asking people about positive and negative encounters on social media platforms. This helps us understand which platforms are improving and where improvements are needed. For instance, LinkedIn stands out for having fewer negative experiences and fostering a more positive environment.

In the world of AI, we’re also keeping an eye on user experiences to catch potential harms early as AI adoption grows.

In summary, Iyer says we can create a healthier online environment by holding platforms accountable for their design choices and continually measuring user experiences to ensure progress. 

Graphics: Ravi Iyer, USC Marshall School's Neely Center

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) one of the largest global tech events in the world, offers thousands of compelling opportunities. 

Among the foremost is the chance to be at the forefront of groundbreaking product launches. It's a chance to witness the unveiling of leading-edge creations and feel the sensation of he future unfolding before your eyes. You can not only observe but actively interact with innovations that far exceed mere observation.

The stories and inspirations behind innovations show how visionary founders and engineers were driven to bring their dreams to fruition.

In addition to technology, CES is a knowledge hub where industry luminaries deliver breaking news, and lead thought-provoking workshops and panel discussions. These sessions provide an invaluable opportunity to glean insights into the ever-changing landscape of technologhy. The perspectives are the most up-to-date and feature the best practices across various sectors.

The "Social Media's Impact on Kids," session featured a stellar panel of speakers. They offered a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes efforts driving research and policy changes to the forefront. It was an impressive journey into the relationship between education, research and technology, showing how these forces combine to safeguard our children and families.

In closing, thank you for your interest in this post. CES is the convergence of innovation, knowledge and potential in technology. It's a realm where the future is not a distant idea, but a tangible reality waiting for us to explore.



i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura