Social media is a big part of young people’s lives. Psychology Today reports that social media use is now the most common activity children and teenagers engage in, with the majority of users accessing social media platforms several times each day through their personal cell phones.
Social media has its benefits, and being able to keep in touch with friends and family remotely was one of the saving graces in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when people were isolating in their homes. But there’s a dark side to social media as well. Recently leaked documents from Meta, the company that oversees social media giants Facebook and Instagram, suggest the company has known for several years that its Instagram app is contributing to body image issues and other mental health problems for teens, particularly females. Social media platforms use algorithms to enhance users’ engagement. Feeds may be driven toward polarizing topics or those that have the most shock value, further leading teens down a negative path.
The current tween and teen generation is faced with constant information being delivered right to their handheld devices. Children may not be developmentally ready for the immediate gratification that social media provides nor the constant onslaught of content. As a result, teens increasingly are becoming more irritable, having trouble sleeping and are spending more time alone as a result of phone usage. The Harvard Graduate School of Education says recent studies have noted a significant uptick in depression and suicidal thoughts over the past several years for teens, especially those who spend multiple hours a day using screens.
There are steps parents can take to help tweens and teens who may be struggling and need assistance managing social media.
– Set real limits. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that until meaningful government oversight is in place to police social media platforms, parents will have to set their own parameters for use. Putting phones down at meal times, turning off alerts close to bedtime, and making certain days a rest from technology can help.
– Block upsetting content. It’s a parent’s job to be a parent, not a best friend. Giving in to requests to engage with certain social platforms, even when they do not align with one’s beliefs or values, can be harmful. Set limits on which platforms children are allowed to use.
– Regularly monitor kids usage. Parents should look through their kids phones and accounts on a regular basis to see which sites are being visited and how kids are engaging with others. If social media is affecting a child’s mental health, have him or her take a break or delete the account.
Social media is ever-present in kids lives. Parents and other caregivers have to find a way to assist struggling tweens and teens with social media so it does not become a detriment to their overall health.