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A Digital Crisis: The Impact of Social Media on Youth Mental Health

Do you feel like you never see your teenager? Or that you're constantly competing with Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram for their attention? If so, you're onto something.

The average teenager engages in about 8.5 hours of screen time every day. This number has jumped significantly since 2019.

Research also shows that social media use is on the rise in younger children ages 8-12- they spend about 5.5 hours online. This staggering number persists despite platforms requiring users to be over age 13.

While technology isn't going anywhere, parents should be informed about the mental health risks of social media. Likewise, they should know the best practices when it comes to keeping their children safe. Here's what you need to know.

Understanding How Social Media Impacts Mental Health

Although social media is relatively new, research already shows that engagement can have significant effects on mental health. Since about 2012, studies have indicated a link between social media and depression. In addition, people who use social media state increased feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and low self-esteem.

The Addictive Nature of Social Media

As you probably know, stopping social media use isn't necessarily easy. Easy access and fast rewards are two significant precursors to addiction. And social media- which requires just a few seconds to make an account- is free and simple.

Furthermore, we're biologically wired to connect. We're social creatures, and we rely on these connections to feel safe, supported, and loved. Better yet, our brains release feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin when we feel connected, thus reinforcing its importance.

Every like, comment, follow, or view releases those hormones. So, we keep chasing them over and over again. And when we stop, the body goes into a state that resembles withdrawal. This explains why you open a social media app just seconds after you closed it- you want to see if you missed anything.

The impact is insidious. One study found that 40% of people would rather give up their pet or car before letting go of their accounts. And more than 70% of users indicated they wouldn't delete their accounts for anything less than $10,000.

How Social Media Affects Self-Esteem

Perfect relationships. Gorgeous bodies. Beautiful vacations. Open any social media app, and you're sure to be inundated with flawless evidence of other people's lives.

And even if you logically know it's a facade, social media triggers FOMO along with this pervasive feeling of never having or being enough. As an adult, you may have some of the regulation skills to cope with this distress. But does your child?

Constant exposure to an illusion of perfection undoubtedly affects teenagers. At a time when fitting in feels absolutely crucial, any flaw becomes magnified. And if your child feels like everyone else is "better," that feeling can tank their self-esteem.

What Can Parents Do About Their Child's Social Media Use?

In most cases, it isn't realistic to ban your child from social media entirely. But as a parent, it's your job to have impactful discussions and set reasonable limits. Here are some guidelines.

Expect Them to Use It

Some parents want to ban social media use outright. Given what we know about these platforms, this desire certainly comes from a place of good intentions.

But in reality, the prohibition method rarely works. Forbidden fruit becomes that much more delicious. And it's extremely easy for children to sneak behind their parents' backs and make an account. But if a problem occurs, they will be much less likely to talk about it. They won't want to get into trouble.

Instead, it's better to embrace the mindset that children will be drawn to social media. Then, ideally, you can help them foster a healthy relationship with it.

Model Healthy Social Media Use

If you expect your child to use social media appropriately, you can't be glued to your phone 24/7 yourself. If you're always online, why should they have different rules?

Instead, model appropriate phone use. Consider establishing technology-free zones and times. Feel free to acknowledge your own occasional struggles with social media- this shows that you're human and that you aren't immune to its tantalizing effects either.

Start Having Discussions Early

Like with most sensitive topics, it's important to begin talking about social media use before it potentially becomes a problem. During elementary school, for instance, it may be helpful to start talking about responsible phone use, safety online, and how social media works.

Children, of course, may not understand the full impact of their online habits. Furthermore, parents need to continue reinforcing the notion that "the Internet is forever." Keep talking to them about what content is (and isn't) appropriate to share.

Make sure that you continue reviewing your boundaries with your child. At any given time, they should know your expectations. Moreover, they should also know what will happen if they don't follow them.

Consider Parental Monitoring

If you're concerned about your child's social media habits, you may feel tempted to grab their phone whenever you feel like it. However, doing so can feel like a significant violation of privacy, and it often encourages children to get even sneakier.

Instead, consider installing tracking and monitoring software on your child's phone. Some apps set screen time limits, allow remote control access, and permit parents to see everything their child does online.

Such monitoring should be age-appropriate and based on your child's maturity and development. For example, how much freedom you give an eight-year-old will be different than what you grant a sixteen-year-old.

Final Thoughts

Whether you like it or not, social media is likely here to stay. But that doesn't mean your child is doomed. Instead, aim to cultivate healthy online habits within your home.

If you're concerned about your child's mental health, healthy boundaries and open dialogue might not be enough. At The Resurface Group, we help families connect and grow together. We will prioritize your child's well-being at the highest level. Contact us today to learn more.

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