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How does social media affect children?

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A bipartisan coalition made up of 44 nationwide attorneys general, including Michigan AG Dana Nessel, has urged social media companies to increase their parental controls.

The coalition sent letters to the companies requesting they change their policies regarding parental controls to allow for third-party applications to help parents monitor their child's activities.

The actions of the coalition have prompted many to wonder the underlying effects of increased social media use on developing minds.

Aubrey Borgen, a Central Michigan University researcher specializing in psychology, focuses her research on identifying ways to encourage healthy social media use in adolescence and helping parents manage their child's social media use.

“Many kids aren’t being supervised and can be exposed to a lot of different things like inappropriate content,” Borgen said. “Whether it is sexualized, violent content, anti-social content or just fake news, kids can be negatively influenced by it.”

Borgen said cyberbullying is a constantly increasing issue that has been seen to affect a range of 14% to 57% of the adolescent population.

“Research has found that cyberbullying is related to depression, anxiety, isolation, suicidality, sexting and other types of victimization as well as some other long term effects,” Borgen said.

She described cyberbullying as “Intentional and repeated harm from one or more peers that occurs in cyberspace, caused by the use of computers, smartphones, and other devices.”

“Another related concern is children interacting with individuals that they don't know in real life and who could potentially put them in dangerous situations,” Borgen said. “Kids often feel safe if they’re just interacting with someone through a screen, but that can give a false sense of security.’

Despite there being an already in place “Restricted mode” by apps such as Tik Tok, children are able to easily get around this by either creating new accounts or changing the settings themselves.

Borgen said there are positives and negatives to using social media but some symptoms often associated with social media use can be other unrelated issues.

“If we’re seeing symptoms of depression, we don’t know if those symptoms come from before the social media use and result in more social media or the more social media is resulting in those symptoms themselves,” Borgen said.

Borgen said the resulting symptoms are often dependent on the amount of social media use and how it interferes with other important things in life.

She said that social media can interfere with physical activity, completing school work, and socializing.

Borgen also said there are some upsides to social media use for adolescence such as exposure to new ideas, new ways of thinking, developing creative interests, and developing connections or supports that they wouldn't otherwise have in real life.

Borgen said parents should attempt to be aware of their child's maturity and comfort level with coming to their parents if they have issues online before allowing them to be unsupervised on social media.

Borgen recommended parents to go to for a better understanding of what your child may be interested in and educational tools to help parents with social media.