Parent Advisory: Social Media Dangers for Kids Increase with Spike in Summer Use

As school winds down and summer begins, millions of children and teens will be spending more time on social media. While social media can provide an opportunity to connect with friends outside of school, it also poses a number of considerable dangers and risks to children and teens. These platforms are designed to keep kids online and engaged for as long as possible, and they are incredibly effective at capturing time and attention. Even with the structure of school, kids spend an average of 4.8 hours a day on social media. While kids enjoy less structure during the summer, the risks of social media overuse and dangers present on these platforms can increase.  

Parents should know that social media risks include addiction and overuse, bullying, child sexual abuse material, dangerous challenges, depression and anxiety, disordered eating, drugs, and sexual predators. These risks exist across all social media and social gaming platforms. Parents can help mitigate some of these risks by talking with their kids about social media dangers, setting up parental controls, and limiting social media use over the summer. 

Social media risks parents should be aware of during increased summer use include:

  • Addiction and Overuse: Social media platforms are intentionally designed to keep people online and engaged. 54% of US teens say social media would be “hard to give up” and 48% of British teens say they “feel addicted” to the platforms they use. Parents frequently report that disagreements about social media time, use, and boundaries are a major source of tension in their family. 
  • Bullying: Nearly half (46%) of US teens have been bullied on social media. Online bullying can create significant mental health harms for kids and teens, including depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. Black teens and girls are more likely to face targeted abuse online. 
  • Child Sexual Abuse Material: Sexual images of children are at an all-time high online. Last year alone more than 100 million of them were reported. Parents should know predators can meet children on social media and social gaming platforms and deceive or coerce them into creating and sharing sexual images without ever being in the same room. In a recent survey from ParentsTogether, parents reported that Snapchat is the #1 platform where kids share sexual images of themselves.  
  • Dangerous Challenges: Social media is full of viral challenges that range from harmless to dangerous and deadly. By their very nature these challenges are designed to appeal to adolescent brains with a combination of risk-taking, approval from peers, and impulsivity baked in. Children regularly die attempting social media challenges.  
  • Disordered Eating: Visual social media platforms in particular inundate young users with AI-generated or heavily filtered images of impossible beauty standards. An endless feed of these images, coupled with content actively promoting extreme diet, weight loss, and exercise practices, can trigger disordered earring and poor body image in young people. 
  • Drugs: Social media is the new marketplace for buying and selling illicit drugs. Many of those drugs are far from harmless – 7 out of 10 confiscated pills contain a lethal dose of fentanyl. Kids can easily buy drugs on social media which appear to be safe prescription drugs but are actually deadly. 
  • Sextortion and Sexual Predators: Sextortion, a serious crime where a predator tricks or coerces a victim into sharing sexual images and then blackmails them over those images, is up 300%. In a recent ParentsTogether survey, parents reported Snapchat and Instagram are the top two platforms where their children have received unwelcome sexual solicitations. 

ParentsTogether, a community of more than 3.5 million parents that offers parenting news and resources, advises parents to take the following steps to reduce these dangers during the summer — all online experiences come with some risks for kids.

  • Talk your children about social media risks and harms: Tell kids they can always talk to you about problems online. Set the expectation that your kids can share things they see or hear online that make them feel weird, upset, curious, or scared, and that doing so won’t make you angry or make them lose access to their device. 
  • Set parental controls on devices and individual apps: Parental controls are far from perfect, but they can make social media a little safer for kids by limiting their access to strangers and harmful content. See ParentsTogether’s guides for setting parental controls on Snapchat and Discord
  • Limit access to social media for kids under 13: Most social media platforms and legal protections are designed for kids 13 and older. Younger kids on social media face even greater risks than teens, as they are less able to process and mitigate risks and take reasonable steps to keep themselves safe.   
  • Charge devices at night in a common area outside your child’s bedroom. Limiting your child’s access to devices at night can both improve their sleep and mental health and reduce their risk of harm.
  • Offer offline experiences and opportunities for connection: Whenever possible, offer your child offline experiences that allow them to connect with friends and loved ones over the summer. Time outside or in favorite activities creates a strong incentive for kids to put down their devices. 

While parents are a critical part of keeping kids safe online, we can’t do it alone. We need lawmakers to support legislation that will require social media companies to design safer, better products and protect kids from these harms. 

  • Create Safety by Design for Kids: State age-appropriate design codes create a “safety by design” framework that requires social media companies to design safer, more kid-friendly products.