According to research published by the American Psychological Association, social media is linked to a rise in mental health disorders in teens. As parents and educators, we know that we can’t prevent students from being exposed to social media. Instead of banning it, we should focus on helping tweens and teens develop a healthy relationship with social media. To avoid the negative effects of social media on mental health, it’s important for parents to create an open and supportive environment to talk about it with their kids.
So, we asked 3 experts to talk about the effects of social media on mental health and to share tips for helping children develop a healthy relationship with screen time.
1. Social media can encourage students to strive for a level of ‘perfection’ which simply doesn’t exist
Emmy Brunner, Psychotherapist and the founder of The Recover Clinic
Social media can encourage us to strive for a level of ‘perfection’ which simply doesn’t exist – this can increasingly have a negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing. A lot of social media posts are aspirational and a highlight reel of what those individuals want you to see and think. Even those who haven’t had clinical or beauty procedures can manipulate and filter how they look, so the very basic norms of what they are perceived to look like are skewed.
Often the potentially harmful effects of the content, (particularly on children and young people) isn’t taken into consideration when publishing to social media. Things such as whether fans/followers will start to question themselves, believe their negative self-perception and go after something which isn’t real or achievable. This can have the most traumatising impact because it confirms a young person’s worst fears about how they look and what their life is like.
If social media content is affecting your child’s mental health and wellbeing, then developing a self-caring toolkit is key:
- Practice gratitude and affirmations together – to remind them that they are great just as they are by focusing on achievements that don’t revolve around aesthetics we can raise body confident children, even if they do become exposed to negative messages on social media. Whilst everybody loves a compliment, it’s important to choose what you say to your child wisely, as you never know what could be running through their mind and how your comments could affect them.
- Encourage them to embrace a new activity or something they used to really enjoy.
- Support them to unfollow anybody on social media who doesn’t make them feel good about themselves or their life.
- Teach them the value in helping social media platforms moderate users by blocking and/or reporting accounts which are harmful.
- Turn off notifications and allow yourself to be more present – spending time ‘in the moment’ helps your child to reconnect with their inner voice, values, and passions.
- Amend their privacy settings so you both have more control over who has access to their data.
- Develop a support network – whether that is of professionals or someone whom you as a parent/guardian/child feel comfortable talking to. Keep that communication open.
- Remind them to check in with themselves – how much time are they spending viewing aspirational content? How does it make them feel?
- Address inequalities perpetuated by the media and popular culture with your children too. Challenge media depictions that exploit or degrade people’s bodies – let your child know that you don’t think this is okay.
- Be the example that you want your child to see and reflect this in your own social media too. By making your child aware of your own body insecurities, it can naturally perpetuate a copycat behavior model and make any inquisitive child question their own aesthetic value. Our kids learn from what we do so much more than what we say.
2. Students can start to feel left out and disliked after seeing their friends have fun on social media
Sal Raichbach, PsyD of Ambrosia Treatment Center
The problem with teens on social media is that their minds are still developing, and sometimes, they lack the critical thinking skills to deal with what they see online. Bullying on social networks is rampant, and just as damaging as bullying in-person. Even if a child isn’t being bullied directly, they can still feel left out and disliked after seeing their friends having fun on their timeline.
It’s also vital to explain that what they see online is a highlight reel of other people’s lives. No one posts about their daily struggles, so from the outside-in, it looks like everyone is living a perfect life. In reality, everyone has problems, and what you see is how they chose to present themselves. You have to take everything you see on social media with a grain of salt because it’s not the full picture.
3. Social media creates a temporary feel-good effect that ultimately leaves you feeling unsatisfied
Kealia Reynolds, House Method
Something that many people don’t realize is how deeply social media can impact your mental health. You’re absorbing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of likes on a daily basis that can be perceived as a nod in your favor. These ‘likes’ release dopamine into your body, creating a temporary feel-good effect. As soon as the likes stop, or you don’t get enough on a post, you’re left feeling unsatisfied and constantly wanting more from your social followers. When you’re comparing yourself to others who are getting much more attention and love, you start playing the comparison game and get into the mindset that you’re not good enough.
Children can develop a healthy relationship with social media by spending less time on screens and more time on other activities, like a sport or hobby. Social media can be extremely helpful, but it can also be harmful. To limit the negative repercussions of social media, remind your children that most of what’s posted is a filtered version, a highlight reel, if you may, of someone’s life. Encourage them to follow people on social media who are as real and vulnerable as possible—this might take some vetting, but it will hopefully remind them that who they are is enough.
As a parent, you have to realize how important social connectivity is to kids and teens. People have been communicating on the internet their entire lives, so it’s all they know. Help them understand that people act differently online than they do in real life, but kindness, fairness, and restraint are ideals that should apply everywhere.
The best was to avoid social media from having a negative impact on students is to help them develop a healthy relationship with it. When parents set a positive example of social media behaviors, have open discussions about the unrealistic standards it can promote, and help them honor their accomplishments with gratitude, students will be better equipped to use social media in a positive way.
How do you help your children avoid the negative effects of social media on mental health? Let us know in the comments below!