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Can social media be good for kids?

Can social media be good for kids? If you stopped a random person on the street and posed this question to them, their likely first response would be a confident “no.” 

It’s an understandable reaction, in no small part due to the observable increase in adolescents’ anxiety and depression levels in tandem with their increased use of digital and social media over the last decade in the United States. 

However, the issue may not be as clear-cut as it is perceived.  

When studied more closely—such as the report on Social Media and Youth Wellbeing published by Mizuko Ito, Candice Odgers, and Stephen Schueller in 2020—research actually indicates that “the current state of evidence does not support existing fears regarding negative impact of digital technology on adolescents’ mental health.”     

With the right platform that optimizes parental control and minimizes the risk of unsafe encounters, social media could be an incredible tool for children to connect in meaningful and enriching ways by providing peer-to-peer access for social support and capital - increasing opportunities for creative self-expression for children during the most fundamental years in their development.           

Evidence of this collaborative enrichment in adolescents shines through popular social and gaming app-based platforms. Experts like Dr. Ito believe social platforms provide both a creative component and offer a platform that gives children opportunities to connect with others their age and challenge each other to continue learning. Dr. Ito highlights the unique stress levels younger generations nowadays face, particularly post-pandemic, and reinforces the importance of peer support that comes from social media - one of the primary avenues that children use to communicate.     

Similarly, a study of an online Minecraft community composed of youth with autism revealed that players were able to provide social and emotional support to one another, leading to developments of positive identities and showing the feelings of self-worth that are critical to the wellbeing of child development.      

Likewise, in the article Rebel With a Cause: Help teens resist the pull of social media, University of Pittsburgh School of Education Professor Brian Galla suggests helping teenagers “maximize ‘time well spent’ on social media.” Understanding that social media has the means to negatively pry on children, there are easy ways to curb these inclinations, such as educating children on the potential setbacks of social media use and reminding them that they can use social media to their advantage when it comes to helping them decide who they are and who they want to be.”      

So perhaps the correct question to ask is not whether social media is “good” for children, but more so “which social media platform provides that fulfillment for my kids” in ways that are enriching and engaging. There is no tangible way to guarantee that children can be shielded from the potential drawbacks to social media and the internet. But, instead of taking things away, guide them toward using the tools the world is offering them the right way and satisfy their cognitive and social needs.