Recently, you may have heard about the U.S. Surgeon General’s warning to parents about the possible harm that social media poses for children. Surgeon General: Why Social Media Harms Youth Mental Health | Time Today, I want to summarize and comment on his main concerns.
To begin, social media has a positive side. Studies have shown that platforms such as Instagram and Facebook provide children outlets for creative expression as well as for making positive social connections. Social media use can be positive for mental health and well-being | News | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
That said, the Surgeon General wants parents to know that, at this time, there are no conclusive studies which show that social media is safe or harmless for kids. Further, there are indications that, for some young adults and situations, social media can be harmful to a child’s mental health in several ways. Here is a summary of concerns along with some useful tips to help you cope with this omni-present technological reality.
How Social Media Can Be Detrimental to a Child’s Mental Health:
1) Can harm child’s self-image and sense of worth. Can harm child’s self-image and sense of worth. What kids see on the various sites can have a negative impact on how they see themselves, especially when seen in comparison to others. For example, if their postings don’t receive as many “likes” as they expected , a sense of failure can set in. when posting becomes a competitive sport, children who aren’t on top can come to belive that there is something wrong or sub-standard about them.
2) May distort or worsen expectations concerning normal friendships. Likewise, the number of friends a person has in comparison to others can become a false measure of the child’s likability.
3) Could expose children to bullying and harrassing behaviors. Could expose children to bullying and harassing behaviors. Bullying is the # 1 concern expressed by class-room teachers and social media has become a common place where it occurs anonymously.
4) Is Addictive and difficult to stop using. As I have written about before, the smart phone when linked with social media is a powerfully addictive technology. Kids will tell you that, even though they try to cut back or stop, they jsut can’t.
Specifically this addiction is problematic because kids will be on sites until the early hours of the morning. As a result, children are reporting serious sleep deprivation. Not surprisingly, the lack of sleep is contributing to an increase in anxiety and depression among youngsters.
Tips for Parents:
1) Know What Social Media Your Kids Are On. The first step to get control over your children’s use of social media is just to know what site they are on.
2) Get to Know those Social Media Platforms. (Instagram etc.) From there, you can research and get to know what the point of postings is. To be an effective parent, one must be familiar with the details of each media site that their children frequent.
3) Set clear and definite time limits concerning the use of social media. A difficult but important element in parental supervision of social media management is setting time limits for access to the sites. Some parents set times when phones can be used and when they can not. Taking phones away at bed time is very important.
4) Keep in open communication with your children about their social media experience. In addition to knowing, it important to ask about how their experience has been and is currently going.
5) Reassure your children that you are there for them. Make sure that they know that, if they have a problem with beiing on-line, you are there to listen and help them with it
While unique in specific details, the challenges posed by social media are similar to other parenting trials created by evolving technology. Each generation must learn to deal with the social implications which stem from new technology. Whether it was the automobile, motion pictures / television , the internet or cellphones , social media is simply the latest with which parents must get to know so tht they can help their children navigate the treacherous waters of ever changing technology.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC,Fellow AAPC 6/01/2023