DES MOINES, Iowa — Smartphones are a ubiquitous part of American life, and with them come social media apps like TikTok and Twitter. The technology is in all of our hands, but is the connected world of social media detrimental to children and teenagers?

Marli Anderson is a senior in high school, and like many of her peers, she is on multiple social media apps.

“I definitely use TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram; those are the main ones,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s generation barely knows a world without apps; the first iPhone was released sixteen years ago in 2007, and the first iPad was launched thirteen years ago in 2010.

Anderson has literally grown up with social media. She said she has been on messaging app Snapchat since age 12 and has been an active user of TikTok for three years.

“The rabbit hole is the repetitive scrolling,” Anderson admitted. “You just keep going and going and going.”

Recent studies show that teenagers like Anderson typically spend more than eight hours on their devices per day, a metric known as “screen time.” The same study reports that pre-teens, specifically children between the ages of 8 and 12, have an average screen time of more than five hours a day.

Drake University adjunct professor Chris Snider researches topics including smartphone and social media usage. Snider said social media shows no signs of slowing down.

“Instagram just gave us numbers that two billion people are using their product,” Snider said. “It’s doubled in a few years.”

The secret sauce behind social media is dopamine, the chemical in the brain which causes euphoria and is released with every notification and viral video. Dopamine can be addictive, and brain scans suggest excessive dopamine is shrinking the areas of the brain responsible for concentration.

Snider said those effects are reasons for parents to take caution with their teenagers and social media.

“Just because you can sign up at age thirteen to be on some of these networks, does not mean that your child is ready to be on these networks at age thirteen,” Snider said. “You need to consider: Is their brain developed enough to understand what’s happening on these social networks?”

Marli Anderson and her mother Holly have discussed Marli’s social media use on numerous occasions.

“I did check her phone,” Holly said. “She doesn’t always remember that, but i’s always, ‘I’m going to know your password and there are no secrets.’”

Holly said she first experienced screen time shock in child rearing with Marli’s older brother, who is now 23. She said they struggled with his iPad use as a teenager, and that he quickly became addicted to the screen.

“It was a learning curve, a big learning curve for us,” Holly said. “We had every parental control on that iPad nine years ago and he would get through them.”

Marli said she understands her mother’s watchful eye when it comes to social media.

“I have a really big trust relationship with my parents,” she explained, but also expressed her belief that “strict parents create sneaky kids.”

Mother and daughter may differ on the opinion of screen time, but they all agree on the need to be safe while on social media.

Marli’s parents especially worry about online predators. According to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, online enticement reports increased more than 97% increase between 2019 and 2020, and there are an estimated 500,000 active predators online every day.

“I think that’s where that education comes in,” Marli said. “It’s knowing who is and who isn’t safe to add back, and knowing when a line is crossed where you need to remove block somebody.”

Snider encourages parents to make sure kids understand these eight issues before allowing them to use these apps:

  • There are people posing as someone else
  • What’s funny to you might not be funny to others
  • Assume nothing will disappear & nothing is private
  • This is not real life and it’s not a measurement of your worth
  • Social media will make you feel bad sometimes
  • Put privacy settings in place
  • There is an algorithm deciding what you see
  • Be kind – you could change someone’s life with a like or comment