Keep children off social media

29 May, 2024

Absolute agreement between political parties on important issues is rare, but when it happens, it reflects the views of the vast majority of the people. One such issue is the appropriate age at which children should be allowed to use social media platforms.

Experts warn that social media poses a “major risk” to the mental health of children and adolescents. Their regular use can adversely affect the brain development of children, even those who have reached the minimum age of 13, as major platforms TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and X require. However, this age limit is not being consistently adhered to.

The government, opposition and state leaders are considering raising the age limit to 16 years. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said it is time to take “strong action” to protect young Australians by introducing an age limit with “effective” enforcement. He expressed the federal government’s desire to “respond positively” to calls from Australian parents for help in tackling the problem, which has “devastating and frightening consequences” for the mental health and well-being of children and teenagers.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton and communications spokesman David Coleman said the Coalition “strongly supports” the initiative, stressing that “it is difficult to support having children under the age of 16 on social media, especially when we have seen the damaging consequences this can have”.

Clinical psychologist Dr Mitch Prinstein, chief scientific officer of the American Psychological Association (APA), stressed that “unlimited access, without any control or parental monitoring, should be delayed for as long as possible – at least until 16”. Children are not only younger in age, but their brains function differently, making them more vulnerable during the developmental phase of adolescence.

Sleep deprivation can be more dangerous for adolescents than for adults, and social media-induced disruptions can prevent children from doing their schoolwork or engaging in social interactions in the real world.

Dr. Prinstein points out that the algorithms of most platforms are designed to maximize engagement, with 50% of adolescents reporting at least one sign of clinical dependence on social media, according to a recent survey. That means “they can’t give up even if they try,” Prinstein says.

The fact that social media is not “real life,” that there is rampant misinformation and it is run by tech companies that collect data for profit is enough to actualize the political will to protect children.

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