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How Social Media Impacts Your Child's Mental Health

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Since the inception of social media in 1997 with the launch of the social site Six Degrees, internet users have been connecting with each other through cyberspace. And while social media does have some positive influences on society, including allowing us to connect more easily with friends and family, it also has potential negative impacts, especially on kids.

The Rise of Social Media

2012 was a turning point in social media and teen behaviors, according  to Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. This was around the same time that smartphone ownership rose above 50%. The increased access by young people to social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Myspace, correlated with a sharp drop in real-life social activity. In addition to spending less time with friends, researchers discovered other negative trends, including:

  1. Not getting enough sleep
  2. Feeling more isolated and alone
  3. Having a poor self-image

“Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy,” according to Twenge. This is best demonstrated in a series of charts that Twenge created to highlight the drastic rise of the negative effects of increased social media use among today’s youth.

An Increase in Depression in Teens

Depression among teens in the United States is on the rise. In 2017, roughly 2.3 million, or 9.4% of young people ages 12 to 17, experienced at least one major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. There have been direct correlations between the increase in teen depression and the rise of social media use.

“The less you are connected with human beings in a deep, empathic way, the less you’re really getting the benefits of a social interaction,” says Alexandra Hamlet, Psy.D., with the Child Mind Institute. “The more superficial [the interaction] is, the less likely it’s going to cause you to feel connected, which is something we all need.”

Depression in children can result from seemingly innocent social media interactions, such as seeing a post about a party and feeling left out or viewing photos that make a teen feel inadequate. Other social media interactions aren’t so innocent, and often play a role in bullying. The feelings of isolation and missing out on social activities strengthen a teen’s feelings of loneliness and not fitting in.

What Teens Are Saying About Social Media

Many young people realize the negative impact that social media is having on their lives. In a 2018 article in The Drum, Lesley Bielby, a marketing exec with three Generation Z children, talked about a personal experience when asking her children about their own social media use.

“My daughter confessed that ‘Social media makes you create a standard for yourself that is almost impossible to maintain. It’s exhausting and overwhelming,’” Bielby says.

A study by Bielby’s company further revealed that out of 1,022 Gen Z’ers questioned, 41% said that social media made them feel anxious, sad or depressed, and 66% said these feelings occurred often.

How to Minimize the Negative Effects of Social Media on Your Child

If you believe your child is being negatively affected by social media, there are several immediate steps you can take to help, according to the National Center for Health Research:

  • Help your child delete of apps that led to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, and encourage the use of apps that inspire happiness and peace, such as DreamyKid; Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids; and Super Stretch Yoga.
  • Have children turn off all notifications for several hours a day, especially during homework time, meals, and family time. This helps reduce the “siren call” of their mobile devices.
  • Set a specific day or days for your child to take a break from social media.
  • Talk regularly with your child about how their social media interactions make them feel.
  • Make sure your child knows about the risks of social media use. Tell them it’s OK for them to come to you with any questions and concerns.

Like most things in life, it’s about balance. As parents, it’s up to us to help our kids find the right balance in the fast-paced and often confusing online world.

This piece was previously published on One in Five Mind’s blog.

Moore Media

Originally published: September 18, 2019
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