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Kids coming of age with social media offer sage advice for their younger peers

Could laws curb kids' social media use
Could laws help curb kids' social media use? 04:17

Kids constantly hear about the downsides of social media from the adults in their lives, often in the form of dire warnings and commands. 

But the adults themselves did not grow up with social media. They didn't get a phone handed to them as toddlers, just to keep them quiet in a restaurant. They didn't join TikTok and do silly dances before they even learned to read. They didn't have their schools shut down in a global pandemic, their connections to friends and peers relegated to phone and computer screens. 

Weight-related bullying increased by time spent on social media 00:38

Kids coming of age with social media are forging ahead in a whole new world. And now that they are getting older, they have some advice for their younger peers. Here's what young adults say they wish they knew when they first got online.

  • You don't have to compare everything: "It's so easy to look at your friends' stories and feel this feeling of FOMO, of missing out and comparing yourself, like: 'Oh, my friend just got a new car,' said Bao Le, 18, a freshman at Vanderbilt University. "It's like this overwhelming sense of comparison," he added. "But the things that people post on social media, it's just the highlight reel, like the 1% of their life that they want to showcase to other people."
  • Be yourself. Don't obsess over products, brands: "My main point of advice would be not to take it too seriously," said Doreen Malata, 22, a senior at the University of Maryland. "Be yourself," she added. "Younger kids want to be who they idolize. And when the TikTok stars or the social media stars are 20, 18, 16, they're going to want to be like them. You're getting younger kids that are now obsessing over products and brands, and it's just getting really hard to be young. And it shouldn't be really hard to be young. You should be enjoying childhood. And we shouldn't be rushing to grow up. It's OK to be 12. It's OK to be young. It's OK to enjoy childhood."
  • Set time limits: "It seems like it would be really easy to just put your phone down and stop scrolling. But it is not," said Sienna Keene, 17, a high school senior in Orinda, California. "If there was advice that I could give to my younger self, it would be to tell my parents to set up time limits for me — even though I would have never said that when I was starting social media. Also, I personally would not let my kid have TikTok. I would try to resist it as long as I could. It's so addictive."
  • Take a "social media detox": "When you first get these apps, it hits you — like, BOOM, there is so much content, Ava Havidic, 18, a high school senior in Broward County, Florida, said. "Styles, fashion models. It really impacts you heavily when you first get it, this feeling of: 'How do they do it? How do they look like this? How do they get clothes like that?' When you're new to social media, these trends can overtake you. I started to use Screen Time (monitoring) on my phone and limit the amount of time I am on social media. I've been taking phone detoxes. On weekends, I'll take a social media detox for 10 hours or the majority of the day. I'll hang out with my family, ride my bike. I only have notifications for my messages and workspaces. I don't have any notifications on for social media apps."
  • Engage with the real world: "Often I hear the term 'social media user,' but I felt like I was being used by social media," said Lea Nepomuceno, 18, a freshman at George Washington University. "I had this routine of scrolling mindlessly through TikTok, just scrolling and scrolling and comparing myself to other people. It ultimately really affected my body image, my perception of what was considered beautiful or accepted into society. But the only thing I was getting out of social media was feeling fatigued, or I would feel sad," she said.
    "You can use social media to amplify your passions, but in order to do that you need to do a lot of work outside of social media, to discover who you are as a person, what matters to you and what contributions you can make to the world."
  • Don't waste your time: "I would say just don't use it," said Mikael Makonnen, 18, a freshman at American University. It's kind of a waste of time. You're just having conversations about pointless things, random pop culture stuff. It just sucks your time. You're not really getting anything out of it, just short-term satisfaction. It's kind of meaningless. I know this is kind of outlandish, but I feel like there should be some sort of age limit because I don't think children should be on the internet."
  • Be aware it's not real: "A lot of people make their life artificial so that they're perceived in a certain way," said Nour Mahmoud, 21, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University. "And I think going into social media, I wish I knew it is a tool to learn from. There's so much information, and you're able to learn so much about different things. ... I wish people had that outlook rather than the whole idea of other people viewing you and having to be seen a certain way."
  • It's OK to block someone. Protect yourself and your body image: "You can't scroll on TikTok or look through Instagram without seeing supermodels who have edited their photos and are promoting unrealistic beauty standards. I don't want to see these girls who pretend to be fitness influencers but are just promoting an eating disorder like 'body checking' on my feed," said Madeleine Maestre,18, a freshman at Santa Clara University. "That is one thing I wish I knew when I started: that it is OK to not want to look at that or want to consume it. It's OK to protect yourself and your own body image. Another thing I wish I knew is that not everyone on social media is your friend. When you are young and impressionable and people are reaching out to you, just know that not everyone is as friendly as you think they are."

Interviews by Almaz Abedje, Jocelyn Gecker and Barbara Ortutay.

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