Many social media platforms allow kids as young as 13 to create profiles, but the U.S. surgeon general recently said he believes 13 is too young for kids to be on social media. Many medical professionals agree—pointing to a growing body of research that finds social media can be harmful to children’s developing brains.

Social media is a regular part of many people’s lives. While it has its place, pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says too much can be unhealthy.

“Research has shown that in both adults and especially children, the more hours a day they are on recreational screens, the more likely they are to have anxiety and depression,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “And the more hours, equals more anxious and more depressed.”

The stream of consistently negative content, and the speed at which social media users’ brains are forced to react to it, is causing kids to have some developmental brain problems, Dr. Bradshaw says.

Kids can become addicted

While many social media platforms require users to be at least 13 years old to create profiles, a 2018 poll conducted by Common Sense Media found that younger children are increasingly exposed to social media with an estimated 39% of kids getting their first online account between 10-12 years old, and 11% before age 10.

“And we’re actually finding in much research that children’s brains are being influenced by the frequent use of social media to become more hungry, more addicted to social media,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Lead by example

To limit your family’s social media time, Dr. Bradshaw encourages parents to lead by example and create no-phone zones, particularly at mealtimes and in the bedroom before bedtime.

  • Make it a rule that kids dock their phones in your bedroom at night.
  • Follow your kids’ social media accounts with an agreement about whether you will or won’t engage with their posts.
  • Keep computers in public areas of the home.

Reinforce quality connections

While it may seem like kids and teens who engage on social media are more connected with other people, Dr. Bradshaw says that is not actually true.

“Studies have shown that the quality of that connection is nothing like being in the same room as your friend and having physical interaction and verbal interaction with them,” she says. “In fact, it’s more isolating sometimes than even being alone.”