How can I keep my kids safe from the mental health risks of social media?
Children’s access, reliance and relationship with technology has skyrocketed in the past two years. Online schooling, increased dependence on laptops during the pandemic and isolation have directly impacted how children interact with technology. Many children became reliant on social media to alleviate feelings of isolation.
According to a recent poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital on Children’s Health, 49 percent of children ages 10-12 and 32 percent of children ages 7-9 are using social media. The primary focus of current research has been on teen use of social media. However, there should be more concern for children in the pre-adolescent years. Developmentally they are not as equipped to navigate these uncharted waters on their own.
We have a rating system that helps us determine the types of movies children watch but not with social media. Children are exposed to all types of information, images and connections that may be inappropriate and sometimes predatory. A recent investigation was launched to look into the potential harm TikTok, a popular social media site used by kids, has on the physical and mental well-being of children.
We have experienced a considerable increase in mental health issues that are a direct result of social media. Common mental health issues that present with teen use of social media include: anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sleep disturbance, decreased socialization skills, sadness and increased feelings of loneliness. In the past two years we have seen a spike in additional mental health issues such as gender dysphoria, tic disorders and other anxiety-related disorders. What is concerning with this new set of issues is the “sudden onset” with no prior history.
Anytime we see a child make a sudden change in friendships, behavior and overall personality there is cause for concern. What we are finding is that the sudden change is directly influenced by social media. Peer-to-peer health information is disseminated and children are picking up on one symptom and self-diagnosing. We are seeing kids coming in that know more about the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders than most professionals in the field.
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How can I be proactive to protect their safety and mental health?
This is the million-dollar question and the greatest challenge. A study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found a positive correlation between greater parental controls and better mental health in pre-adolescent social media use. Parents who are able to help children navigate the online world, set healthy boundaries and limit exposure can mitigate the negative effects associated with social media. The biggest factor is the parents’ ability to keep kids off sites and accounts that may not be age-appropriate.
Continuous monitoring of children’s use of social media apps is difficult to maintain. Many parents find that monitoring children’s use of social media is too time-consuming, they are unable to set parental controls and children often are able to get around parental controls anyway. Here are some steps you can take to help protect your children from the negative impact of social media:
- Delay the introduction. Delaying access to social media until your child is developmentally better equipped to navigate can help mitigate the negative impact.
- Talk to them about the responsibility of having social media. Discuss with your child the responsibility of being able to navigate all that is available to them. Teach them how to set boundaries with others but also with themselves.
- Monitor their accounts. Monitor kids’ browsing history, set parental controls and know who they are connecting with. Monitor the content that kids are engaging in to be certain it is what is age-appropriate for your child.
- Set limits. Limiting the amount of time and not allowing electronics in the bedroom can help children resist the urge to go down the rabbit hole.
Nelson de Ramirez, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and the CEO and founder of OC Kids Therapy, Cornell Family Counseling & Behavioral Health and Cornell Custody Solutions. Visit www.OCKidsTherapy.com or www.DrDawnNelson.com or www.CornellCustodySolutions.com for more information.
Photo can be kids on their device or computer, preferably with parent nearby.