You don’t need scientific proof of the harms of social media to know that you should keep your kids away from it

There are things we know and things we can prove scientifically. About 99% of the things we know are things we can’t quite prove without at least making some assumptions and some leaps of faith.

Using lots of analysis and lots of numbers, NYU statistician Aaron Brown argues that social science has yet to prove that social media is damaging to young people’s mental and emotional health. Fine. But that doesn’t change the fact that social media is damaging to young people’s mental and emotional health.


If you know any significant number of teenagers, you know this is true. If you spend time on social media, you can roughly see why and how social media use would be both addictive and harmful.

If you read the news media, you’ve seen many studies claiming to “prove” the harm of social media. This is where skepticism comes in, because studies and science don’t prove things in the way the news media usually suggests. Here Professor Brown provides a good and useful corrective.

Social scientist Jonathan Haidt claims that research shows overwhelmingly that social media harms young people. Brown reviews the relevant research and concludes: “Not only does the evidence not support his claim about teenage health and mental health; it undermines it.”

(He also flatly claims that “using social media isn’t poison.” If Brown just means that literally, fine, but when we’re talking about mental health, that flat claim is questionable.)

If you read Brown’s entire magazine article, you’ll be more skeptical than you probably started with the widely held claim that “social media has been shown to harm children.”

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But again, parents, school leaders, and counselors all know that social media can cause real emotional and mental damage, especially in children.

Brown’s skeptical argument, if it convinces you, shouldn’t change your parenting. Still, you shouldn’t give your kid a smartphone or allow your teen to access TikTok or browse Discord servers. You should also urge your children’s school to ban smartphones, discourage parents from providing them, and discourage all parents from leaving their children on social media.


Brown’s reasoning and analysis should lead you to call for more and better research into the harms of social media. What Kind of Social Media Harms Children? What kind of children are most harmed by social media? What specific damage are we talking about? What remedies or safeguards are likely to work?

The lack of evidence of damage is a good reason to call for more research. Giving your child unrestricted access to social media is not a good reason.