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APA Report Shows Banning Tech for Teens Will Not Help—But Teaching Responsible Use Will

Across the nation, from state houses to Congress, we’ve seen an explosion of interest in how American young people use online services during this legislative session. While lawmakers tend to have good intentions with such proposals, most of the ones so far have not only been unconstitutional, as NetChoice has argued, but fail to address the core problem of keeping adolescents safe online. 

A new health advisory from the American Psychological Association (APA) echoes such concerns. In their research, the APA has found that “a combination of 1) social media limits and boundaries, and 2) adult–child discussion and coaching around social media use,” (p.5) will lead to the best outcomes for young people online. 

NetChoice has been arguing this all along. 

Banning young people from being able to access online services will not help in the long run, and they will miss out on learning how to place healthy parameters around digital tools prior to adulthood. 

Instead of age-gating the internet, NetChoice encourages lawmakers to do three things:

  1. States and Congress should follow Florida and Virginia and require social media education in the classroom.
  2. Congress must take on the difficult but important task of negotiating and passing a federal data privacy law, which both preempts the complex patchwork of state laws and respects the many beneficial applications of data that Americans enjoy daily. 
  3. The government should help educate parents on the many digital tools available to them right now to help protect their children online. 

While these policies may require more work, they are meaningful solutions that will be most beneficial for equipping Americans of all ages to develop healthy online habits in the Digital Age.

The APA report included other notable points, including:

  • Every young person is different, and should be treated as such, which is why parents and guardians are best to determine the best use for their child: “Age-appropriate use of social media should be based on each adolescent’s level of maturity (e.g., self-regulation skills, intellectual development, comprehension of risks) and home environment.” (p.3)
  • Education is key: “Adolescents’ social media use should be preceded by training in social media literacy to ensure that users have developed psychologically-informed competencies and skills that will maximize the chances for balanced, safe, and meaningful social media use.” (p. 8)
  • Healthy use can and should be taught, both by guardians and in the classroom: “Youth using social media should be encouraged to use functions that create opportunities for social support, online companionship, and emotional intimacy that can promote healthy socialization.” (p.3)
  • Digital tools and interaction may actually serve young people well: “Data suggest that youths’ psychological development may benefit from this type of online social interaction, particularly during periods of social isolation, when experiencing stress, when seeking connection to peers with similar developmental and/or health conditions, and perhaps especially for youth who experience adversity or isolation in offline environments.” (p.4)
  • Using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people. Adolescents’ lives online both reflect and impact their offline lives. In most cases, the effects of social media are dependent on adolescents’ own personal and psychological characteristics and social circumstances—intersecting with the specific content, features, or functions that are afforded within many social media platforms.” (p.3)

Digital tools are just that—tools. 

Young people can be empowered in the classroom to understand healthy practices, parents and guardians can benefit from education on the services available to them and all Americans can benefit from a federal data privacy law that respects beneficial data use while streamlining the regulatory process for innovators. 

Policymakers should take these steps to promote a healthy digital environment for all Americans. 

To read the APA’s Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescence, click here.