Local psychologist agrees social media apps are not appropriate for 13-year-olds

After the nation's top doctor said 13 years old is too early to be using social media, FOX 9 asked a local child psychologist to weigh in on the effects of social media usage and screen time.

Many social media giants currently allow 13-year-olds to join, but these apps can be harmful. Dr. David Nathan, a child/adolescent psychologist with Allina Health, compared their use to that of alcohol and tobacco.

"They're very effective at improving our moods in the short term. But when used in excess, there are significant risks to our health and well-being," he said.

He said social media apps are designed to put users in uncomfortable situations because it gets reactions out of people, and that's not an appropriate environment for a 13-year-old.

"[The apps are] not designed to help us have good relationships with people. They're not designed to help us learn skills that we can use in school, or at work, or in any other areas of life. They're designed to make money for the organizations and the companies that make them," Nathan said.

In general, he recommended parents try to limit their children’s screen time as much as possible.

A new study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics studied the effects of screen time in infants. Researchers found that letting babies watch tablets and TV could limit their executive functioning by the time they were 9 years old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages all screen time before 18 months except FaceTime or video chat.

"We know that screen use just skyrocketed during the pandemic for lots of different reasons, and I think it's going to impact different people in different ways," Nathan said.

Dr. Nathan said many parents are busy and use screens as a way to distract their children. Especially from a young age, he said screens can distract children from what they should be learning instead.

"We learn by doing. We learn by what's role-modeled for us. We learn by having experiences, and if the experience is watching a screen a couple of inches from your face – especially the stuff that's entertaining on screens is usually not really good, accurate representations of healthy ways for us to interact with each other," Nathan explained.

If a child is going to watch TV or a tablet, Dr. Nathan recommended their parents watch with them. He said it’s a form of quality time that can be beneficial.

"Watching screens with our kids, interacting with our kids, laughing with our kids, saying, ‘that’s silly,’ saying, ‘that it's funny’ – that is a very different situation than just parking your kids in front of a screen on their own while adults are somewhere else," he said.