As a therapist working with young people, I see the powerlessness parents and guardians face when trying to referee their children’s screen use. Battles are fought, lost, and sometimes won, over the seemingly simple task of trying to get their children’s attention back to the “here and now”.
Over the past few years in the United States, 8–18-year-olds have increased their daily screen use by 45-75 minutes compared to several years ago. Much of that is thanks to the growing popularity of social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Snapchat.
There are some benefits of using social media for some groups of youth and at some ages, such as opportunities for otherwise marginalized groups to create communities, share ideas and content and create long-lasting friendships. However, there are also some negative aspects of youth engaging in online activities.
In May, the U.S. Surgeon General published data that sounded an alarm about the connection between poor mental health and use of social media, which has grown exponentially since the COVID pandemic. Risks outlined in the data include:
- Exposure to pornographic content
- Normalization of self-injurious behavior
- Dangerous risk-taking challenges
- Disordered eating
- Unwanted and inappropriate chatting and messaging
- Hate-based content against marginalized groups
- Loss of privacy
- Sexual and financial exploitation
- Exposure to potentially addicting content
Although tech companies and policy makers have made attempts to make social media safer for youth to use, these very serious risks still exist. Parents and caregivers can feel powerless when it comes to protecting their child online and on apps, but there are some strategies that can help:
- Delay the age in which your youth starts using social media
- Create a Family Media Plan that outlines allowed content and screen-free zones/times
- Promote social skill building by making in-person, tech-free interactions a priority
- Resist pressures to allow use of social media
- Parents and guardians can limit their own use of social media and model healthy online behaviors
- Invite other adults and families in your life to model limited social media use
- Use parenting controls and apps, but don’t rely on them because kids can find workarounds
- Empower youth to learn and do more about healthy media use with tips from logoffmovement.org
Let children and teens know they can come to you to discuss disturbing content. Also teach them how to report harmful content and feel good about setting healthy limits for themselves. Be fierce in creating ongoing and open discussions with your children and be proud of your efforts in making changes that feel right for you and your children.
If you are concerned about your child’s social media use and/or their mental health, don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns with their primary care provider or seek a mental health assessment and treatment. Call Lone Star Circle of Care at 1-877-800-5722 to schedule an appointment.
Blog post written by Lisa Morales, LPC
Lone Star Circle of Care – Behavioral Health at Harker Heights
American Academy of Pediatrics (n.d.). Family Media Plan. Www.Healthychildren.org. Retrieved July 16, 2023, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/fmp/Pages/MediaPlan.aspx
Cherkin, E. (2023, June 5). “My Kid Doesn’t Use Social Media.” Yes, they do. If your kid uses YouTube or Roblox, they’re using social media. The Screentime Consultant. Retrieved July 13, 2023, from https://www.thescreentimeconsultant.com/blog
Common Sense Media (2022, March 9). The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens. Commonsensemedia.org. Retrieved July 14, 2023, from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/8-18-census-integrated-report-final-web_0.pdf
Tumbokon, R. (2023, May 26). Good and Bad Effects of Social Media on Teens and Kids. Www.Raisesmartkid.com. Retrieved July 11, 2023, from https://www.raisesmartkid.com/10-to-16-years-old/6-articles/43-facebook-myspace-twitter-good-or-bad-for-kids-brain
U.S. Surgeon General (2023, May 23). Social Media and Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory. Www.hhs.gov. Retrieved July 13, 2023, from https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/sg-youth-mental-health-social-media-advisory.pdf