Social media is commonplace for teens and adolescents these days, but what are the mental health risks involved and how can parents help their kids steer clear of these issues?

The Risks

While social media can have positive benefits, including exposure to new ideas, easy consumption of current events and increased opportunities for social contact, it can also have negative effects, especially on teens and adolescents. Some of these effects impact the mental health of developing minds.

While research is ongoing, some theories suggest that social media can inhibit personal and social identity formation, increase social comparison (comparing themselves to others), and pose an increased risk of anxiety and depression. In a recent study, prominent risk factors for depression, anxiety and psychological distress include time spent on social media, level of activity (number of accounts, frequency of checking messages, etc.), and addictive or problematic use.

The Signs

Your child may begin to act differently if they’re experiencing cyberbullying, spending too much time on their devices, talking to strangers online or becoming insecure after comparing themselves to others. Look out for these things: 

  • Noticeable, rapid increase or decrease in device use
  • Emotional responses to what is happening on the device
  • Hiding a device or avoiding discussion about activity on the device
  • Withdrawal, depression, losing interest in people and activities, avoiding social situations
  • Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear

How Parents Can Help

Start by finding out what types and how much social media your child is using. Then, use the following recommendations to put healthy and safe guidelines in place.

1) Limit Screen Time

Review your child’s amount of screen time and put limits in place. It’s recommended that kids ages 5-17 should spend no more than two hours on recreational screen time a day.

2) Quality vs. Quantity

Monitoring and managing social media and technology use is not just about the amount of time spent but also the types of technologies being used and viewed. Encourage healthy engagement with platforms that connect and educate, and less time on platforms that entertain and can potentially hurt or limit your child.

3) Media-Free Times & Places

Plan media-free times as a family and instead engage in activities that promote well-being. Your family could discuss decide on media-free places in your home (such as bedrooms). Parents can also discourage entertainment media while doing homework.

4) Talk about Online Citizenship

Talk to your child about treating others with respect online, how to avoid cyberbullying and sexting, being wary of online solicitations and safeguarding their privacy. Find more on these topics at healthychildren.org.

5) Cellphone Contract

Consider a cellphone contract between you and your child that outlines the expectations for device use. For example: “I do not own this phone; my parents are giving me the privilege of using this phone. I will take care of this phone and work hard to earn this privilege. I will not use this in an inappropriate way.” These can be teaching opportunities, too. Reviewing and writing a contract with a child allows the parents to discuss time limits, digital behavior, not texting and driving, following phone policies in school, and to outline the nature of when and how parents will monitor.

6) Set a Good Example

Turn off the TV and put your phone away during media-free times with your family.

Concerned about your child or want to learn more about family mental health? Find more and resources at burrellcenter.com.

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