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Nurturing mental wellness in a social media world: 5 essential tips for parents

Published Date:

by Pamela Campbell, MD

In 2023, the Surgeon General issued an advisory that sounded the alarm on social media and the mental well-being of our children.

“We’re in the middle of a youth mental health crisis, and I’m concerned that social media is contributing to the harm that kids are experiencing,” Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN.

According to Murthy, children say social media makes them feel worse about themselves and their friends, and yet they can’t put it down.

Problems with social media

The surgeon general’s study found that nearly 40% of children 8 to 12 years old and 95% of children 13 to 17 years old use social media apps, and that teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media double their risk of depression and anxiety.

Another survey found that a third of girls aged 11-15 believe they’re addicted to social media. This is particularly troubling because girls seem to face more harmful issues than boys on social networks. Nearly six out of 10 teen girls say they’ve been contacted on platforms by a stranger in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, while 46% of teen girls said social media made them feel worse about their bodies. 

For all children, social media can have detrimental effects. Some of the more common issues young people can face include:

  • The comparison trap—Teens see their peers dating, on lavish family trips, surrounded by trendy items, etc., and believe everyone else’s life is better than theirs. This can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and anger.
  • Self-worth issues—What happens when your post gets no likes and comments? Children can feel like they have no friends, no one cares about them and that they are inadequate and insignificant.
  • Cyberbullying—Cyberbullying can be everything from online harassment and direct threats to mean comments and rumors. It leads to stress, anxiety, anger, self-loathing and self-doubt, and in extreme cases has even led children as young as 8 years old to commit suicide.
  • Obesity—As children spend more time scrolling through social media, they spend less time in active pursuits. Too much social media time can contribute to weight gain.
  • Sleep issues—The blue light emanating from a phone harms sleep. Additionally, young people can find it hard to resist picking up a phone and starting to scroll when it’s sitting on the bedside table.

What’s a parent to do?

Using social media smartly

Today it’s hard to shield children from social media. But parents can take these five steps to mitigate the damage the platforms can do. 

  1. Assess maturity levels. Before your children join any social network, gauge their emotional maturity, and determine if they are resilient enough to use social media responsibly. Talk to them about the problems that might come from being on social media. Make sure they know it’s okay to edit their feed, removing any negativity, and encourage them to share any online issues with you.
  2. Keep an eye on their activity. If you decide to let your children use social media, monitor the sites they use and the time they’re online. Have boundaries to only use social media at certain times and for limited time frames. Fear of missing out (FOMO) can be an escalating issue, resulting in an excessive preoccupation with social media.
  3. Promote real-life interactions. Encourage your children to have a life in the real world, spending in-person time with friends, engaging in sports or other school activities, volunteering and getting out in nature. This will help them realize there is more to life than social media and will help them not to tie their self-worth to things that happen online.
  4. Lead by example. Most importantly, model good online behavior. If you want your children to use social media responsibly, demonstrate it in your actions. Mealtime is a golden opportunity for a family digital detox. And be mindful of how much time you’re on your phone throughout the day.
  5. Sleep patterns.  Adolescents can have problems related to staying up too late talking to friends, watching videos or playing games, resulting in poor sleep and difficulty getting up in the morning. Parents should set firm time limits on social media use in the evening. Removing the phone from the room may be necessary, but could be met with resistance. 

Social media is here to stay, but with a positive approach you can help your children navigate and avoid some common pitfalls that can affect their health and well-being. 

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