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It’s no secret that social media has taken over the world. Virtually everyone has a social media account, and the number of social media users continues to grow each year. While social media can be an excellent way for people to stay connected with friends and family, it can also negatively affect tweens and teenagers. As parents, it can be challenging to find the right balance when giving kids access to social media. To help, we are exploring the effects of social media on tweens and teens and what parents can do to help protect their children’s mental health and prevent low self-esteem.
What Research Says About Social Media Use
According to research conducted by Middle School Life, more than half of parents with kids using social media accounts stated that their child had witnessed something online that they wish they could take back. Gone are the days when parents simply worry about someone at school pressuring our kids – now that pressure is literally at their fingertips!
Parents surveyed said their teens visit YouTube or another social media platform, and their curiosity gets the best of them. Experts worry that these images become embedded in their minds and that many kids will need more emotional support the more time spent online.
A study recently published in JAMA Pediatrics found that increased social media use is associated with poorer mental health in adolescents. The study, which surveyed more than 11,000 13- to 18-year-olds in the United States, found that those who used social media platforms more often were more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety.
At What Age Should a Child Have a Phone?
When is it appropriate to allow your child to have a phone, and how should you monitor their phone use? This is a common question among many parents. Some parents have allowed their children to have a phone at a young age; however, only for medical or emergency use. Other parents wait until their child is older, around thirteen or fourteen. There are pros and cons to both approaches.
Giving your child a phone at a young age can help you stay connected with them and know their whereabouts. It can also be helpful in case of an emergency. On the other hand, giving your child a phone at a young age can also be detrimental. They may not be old enough to handle the responsibility of having a phone and could easily lose it or break it. In addition, they may be more likely to engage in risky behavior if constantly connected to social media.
Forty-five percent of parents surveyed by Middle School Life say they allowed their child to have a phone at age 11 or 12. It’s important to note that of these parents, 40 percent stated their children do not have access to social media.
Online Identities and Identity Development
As kids grow up, they begin to develop their own identities. Social media plays a significant role in this process for many tweens and teens. They use social media to express themselves and connect with others with similar interests. However, how they present themselves online is not always an accurate representation of their true identity.
Many tweens and teens create “perfect” versions of themselves on social media. They only post photos and updates that make them look good and hide any imperfections. This behavior can give them a false sense of self-esteem and lead to low self-esteem when comparing their “perfect” online persona to their real-life self.
In addition, the pressure to maintain a perfect online persona can also lead to anxiety and depression. If you notice your child spends a lot of time on social media or seems more anxious or depressed, talk to them about how they’re using social media and whether they’re presenting their true selves online.
How are Parents Responding to Their Child’s Use of Social Media?
Although some young people ask their parents for permission to use or download social media, research shows that parents don’t always know how teenagers use their phones or social media platforms. A recent study by Middle School Life showed that only 24 percent of parents feel they know “a lot” about their child’s online activity.
This lack of understanding can be concerning, especially given teenagers’ amount of time on social media. The average teen spends around nine hours a day on social media, which is more time than they spend sleeping or in school. With such a large portion of their day spent online, parents need to know what their children do on social media.
The Effects of Social Media on Teenagers
There is a lot of debate about the effects of social media on mental health. Some experts believe that social media can lead to depression, while others think it can benefit mental health. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that social media causes depression, it shows a connection between the two.
Not many young adults or young people understand the negative effects of social media on teenagers and their mental health. Ninety percent of parents surveyed by Middle School Life stated that they have talked with their children about social media addiction and the effects of social media use. However, many have not discussed teen depression and how social media usage leads to depressive symptoms, especially in the vast majority of young females.
Social media can positively and negatively affect teenagers when it comes to mental health. On the positive side, social media can be an excellent way for teenagers to connect with friends and family, especially if they are dealing with anxiety or depression. Social media can also provide a sense of community for teens who might not feel like they belong in their school or neighborhood. On the negative side, however, social media can be a breeding ground for cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment. In addition, constant comparisons to the “perfect” lives of others often seen on social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
Parents Need to Stay Up-to-Date
So what can parents do? First, parents need to be super clear with their children and explain that heavy social media use can cause mental health issues, poor sleep quality, cyberbullying, poor body image, and lower self-esteem. Parents should sit down with their children and explicitly talk about mental health and teen social media use. It’s no different than discussing the adverse health effects of eating junk food. When parents bring up a topic more than once with their kid, it becomes engrained in their child’s head, so when they begin to feel peer pressure, negative body image, social comparison, or anxiety, they can understand the cause.
Parents need to stay up-to-date on the latest social media trends and platforms their kids use. It’s also essential to communicate openly with your child about their online activity. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, talk to them about their social media use and how it’s affecting them. Encourage them to be open and honest with you about their online activity, so you can help them stay safe and healthy.
What Else Can Parents Do?
Utilize resources like the MARC Center or Common Sense Media to research social media platforms, video games, movies, and more to determine what is appropriate for each age. Encourage your kids to participate in team sports and other extracurricular activities. They can broaden social connections without worrying about the effects of social media.
Last but not least, if you want your kids to be less engaged in social media, try to model that behavior yourself. If you are constantly on your phone or tablet in front of your kids, they will think that is the norm and follow suit. Try having family dinners where everyone puts away their devices during dinner or have a rule where devices are not allowed in certain areas of the house, such as bedrooms. Like any other addiction, it’s important to take social media addiction seriously and do what you can to help kids break the habit.
How do you handle your kids’ social media use? Share your thoughts with us in our Local Anchor Facebook group.