Thanks to technology, today’s children are growing up, in many ways, in a world entirely different from that of their parents. While some of these differences are for the best, the technology that affects children’s daily lives can pose serious dangers. The growing number of lawsuits filed by parents and families of children and teens for self-harm on social media illustrates the seriousness of the effects of social media exposure and addiction.
Why are children today at risk of harm from social media?
There are many reasons why children and adolescents are vulnerable to the harmful effects of social media, which can include low self-esteem, mental health issues, eating disorders, addiction, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
Grow with the constant presence of social media
Young people today are something of a captive audience for the messages being broadcast on social media. Today’s children, teens, and young adults are the first generation of consumers growing up with social media, smartphones, and all the other trappings of the digital age.
Previous generations had lived through a period before social media became ubiquitous, making it easy to distinguish between social media interactions and the “real” (offline) world. Children who have always known smartphones and social networks do not have this perspective. When social media has been a part of your life from your earliest memories, it’s much harder to dismiss comments about cyberbullying and harmful content as “righteous” online interactions, especially during the critical teen years. when young people discover or establish their identity.
Social Media Addiction and Teenage Brain Development
Another reason children and teens are more susceptible to harm from social media is the vulnerability of teen brains to social media addiction. Social media addiction happens the same way as other addictions, according to Harvard University. Social media interactions, like real-life social interactions, activate the brain’s reward center pathways and produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps motivate behavioral repetition. This addictive potential is only increased through the use of addictive psychological tactics, such as engagement-driven algorithms and notification features.
Adults too can fall victim to these addictive psychological tactics, but they are not at risk in the same way as children and adolescents. According to American Psychological Association, it is between the ages of 10 and 12 that the brain undergoes changes in the number of dopamine and oxytocin receptors that amplify the pleasurable feelings that accompany “likes” and other positive interactions (or less perceived as positive) on social networks. In children and adolescents, unlike adults, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that can regulate these emotional responses, is not yet mature, the American Psychological Association reports.
In terms of brain development, tweens and teens are prime targets for addictive products, and some social media sites have been accused of doing just that – “intentionally targeting children” – despite mounting evidence of harm. potentials on social networks, according to NPR.
Why would a social media company target children, knowing that this age group is particularly vulnerable to social media addiction and impressionable when it comes to body image and self-esteem? Facebook whistleblower and former employee Frances Haugen identified “astronomical profits” from advertising revenue as the company’s motivation, according to NPR.
How Social Media Is Seriously Harming Your Mental Health
Social media exposure has been linked to several types of serious harm in children and adolescents. Researchers have determined that excessive and problematic use of social media, in particular, is associated with the following types of harm:
Clinical anxiety: A diagnosable mental health condition characterized by excessive or intrusive fears and worries
Clinical depression: A diagnosable mental health condition characterized by persistent low mood and loss of interest in activities
Low self-esteem: A negative perception of oneself as a whole, which may contribute to other mental health issues or unhealthy behaviors
Poor body image: Negative thoughts and feelings about one’s own body, which can contribute to eating disorders and other mental health problems or unhealthy behaviors
Eating disorders: Medical conditions that can be diagnosed as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, or other disordered eating habits such as skipping meals and obsessive attitudes towards exercise, which can affect physical and mental health of a person
Addiction to social networks: Excessive and problematic social media use that persists despite negative consequences and may contribute to mental health issues, eating disorders, and self-harming or suicidal behaviors
Self-harm: Intentionally inflicting physical harm on oneself
Suicidal thoughts: Thoughts of taking deliberate action to commit suicide by any means, which may progress to actual attempts to commit suicide
In an emergency situation, such as suspected self-harm or suicidal ideation, please seek immediate assistance by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Why are the lawsuits targeting Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media companies?
The growing number of research studies, as well as testimonials from whistleblowers and, of course, individual cases of serious harm suffered by children and adolescents, have led to social media lawsuits. Experienced lawyers expect more social media lawsuits to be filed.
Families have sued companies like Meta, Inc. and Snap, Inc. for their role in the suicides of children who developed social media addictions, eating disorders and health issues mental illness such as depression and anxiety, Bloomberg reported. Other lawsuits against social media companies have stemmed from cyberbullying made possible by allegedly “dangerous” features of social media messaging apps, such as anonymous messaging capabilities, Los Angeles Times reported.
Some states have introduced legislation which, if passed, could allow families to sue social media companies for children’s social media addiction even if other serious harms have not occurred.
Lawyers are currently reviewing potential claims on social media. If you have questions about your family’s legal right to hold social media companies responsible for harming young userse suffered, consider consulting a social media lawyer.