Social Media Use And Children's Wellbeing
Social media use has been linked to a number of negative outcomes in children, including mental health problems.
Research has found that the more hours per day young people spend on social networking sites, the higher their risk of depression and suicide ideation.
This is alarming because many teens are spending upwards of nine hours each day online - about triple what an adult might spend, which leads us to the question: How much time should kids be spending on social media?
And if they do have this much time available to them, which types of activities should they prioritise?
It's not as easy as it sounds. Which activities will best benefit children’s well-being?
The positive effects of social media on children's wellbeing
The news is not all bad. Social media use has been linked to a number of positive outcomes, including higher levels of social well-being.
Some research suggests that teens who make good connections online might be more likely to feel socially adept and confident in face-to-face situations, such as making friends or going on dates.
In another study, young people who had lively, ongoing interactions on Facebook were actually found to have greater self-esteem over time than those whose experiences were more passive.
What's more, some studies have even shown a link between specific types of social media platforms and increases in certain psychological resources, such as optimism and agreeableness among adolescents.
For example, spending time building an audience for your Instagram page has been linked to increases in optimism and agreeableness over time.
Finally, social media might also have a positive effect on young people's psychological health by providing a platform for expressing emotions that otherwise may remain hidden.
In one study of older adolescents, those who used Facebook more frequently reported feeling less lonely than those who used it less often.
In fact, even the mere presence of social media accounts seems to have a significant effect on how others perceive an individual - for better or worse.
Social media use predicts negative well-being later in life
The long-term effects of frequent social networking site use are not as promising, however.
Several longitudinal studies link greater amounts of daily screen time with higher levels of depression and anxiety later on.
What's more, certain social media platforms have been linked with higher levels of stress, which is related to shyness and isolation.
In some cases, these negative associations hold true even when gender and personality traits are taken into account.
A recent study found that the only significant predictor of psychiatric problems in young adults was a history of excessive texting frequency two years prior. That is, greater amounts of time spent on text messaging predicted a significant increase in depression and psychotic-like experiences from ages 18 to 21.
This finding shows that even seemingly harmless behaviors may have serious implications for mental health over time, especially if they're engaged in constantly or compulsively.
These studies suggest that while spending time online can be beneficial or detrimental to children's emotional health, the long-term effects seem to be a bit more complicated. Which leads us back to the question at hand: how much time should kids be spending on social media?
Social media use and children's wellbeing
Social media use has been linked to a number of negative outcomes in children, including mental health problems.
Research has found that the more hours per day that young people spend on social networking sites, the higher their risk for depression and suicide ideation.
This is alarming because many teens are spending upwards of five hours per day on sites like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
These findings suggest that it's important for parents to be aware of their children's social media use - especially if they appear to be struggling with mental health problems or are engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors online.
However, there are some positive aspects of social media that shouldn't be ignored.
Although previous research has shown a link between high levels of screen time and increased risk for depression later on, new research suggests the opposite may also hold true. Research shows that having fun on social networks can have similar effects as offline friendships in increasing one’s sense of wellbeing.
Additionally, platforms such as Facebook have been linked with in certain psychological resources, such as optimism and agreeableness. For example, spending time building an audience for your Instagram page has been linked to increases in optimism and agreeableness over time.
In fact, even the mere presence of social media accounts can have a significant effect on how others perceive someone - for better or worse.
The long-term effects of frequent social networking site use are not as promising, however. Previous research links greater amounts of daily screen time with higher levels of depression and anxiety later on.
This is especially true for certain social media platforms, such as Snapchat that have been linked to higher levels of stress - which is related to shyness and isolation. In some cases these negative associations hold true even when gender and personality traits are taken into account.
A recent study found that the only significant predictor of psychiatric problems in young adults was a history of excessive texting frequency two years prior. It would suggest that even seemingly harmless behaviors may have serious implications for mental health over time, especially if they're engaged in constantly or compulsively.
Parents and teachers should be aware of the potential downsides of social media use on children's wellbeing and offer support when needed - especially to those who seem to be struggling socially offline. However, it is important not to ignore the positive effects as well as the ways that social media can help kids connect with others locally and globally.
How to ensure your child's social media use is positive and beneficial
- Give them the freedom to use social media in moderation. Although they may be tempted to spend all day online when given free reign, this can also lead to problems in the future when they struggle to meet deadlines or participate in offline activities.
- Allow them time offline with friends and family.
- Although they may find it easy to talk for hours via text message, face-to-face communication is still very important for maintaining relationships and healthy psychological functioning. Try setting aside specific times in the day when they must switch off their devices in order to engage in physical activities or spend quality time together.
- Promote positive self-presentation online. Encourage your children to be mindful of how they present themselves online by giving peers a chance to 'get to know the real them' before meeting in person.
- Encourage diversity and critical thinking. Rather than letting your children hang out with whoever they want, help them find a balance between friends who challenge their ideas and friends who think similar to them. This can be done by helping them build a large range of interests that span across different groups of people - both offline and online.
- Remind your child that all relationships require work and effort, whether they're face-to-face or not.
- Although social media makes it easy for children to feel like they have many 'friends,' this doesn't mean that these friendships will automatically translate into offline opportunities or positive interactions if they aren't nurtured regularly through communication and shared experiences.
The dangers of too much social media use for children
The following are examples of some potential dangers associated with excessive social media use for children:
- Social isolation; Social media is not the only way to stay in touch with friends and family. It's important children learn how to maintain relationships offline as well as online - especially when they're just starting out at school or new jobs, but even later on throughout their lives. By repeatedly exposing themselves to experiences that take place primarily within the online world, it may become more difficult for them to adapt when they need to work or live in spaces where most people aren't glued to phones 24/7.
- Higher levels of depression and anxiety over time; Although these feelings may appear due only to frequent social media use, previous research suggests this isn't always the case. Researchers have found that high levels of social media use among teens are only predictive of psychological difficulties when other environmental risk factors are present - such as need for popularity or low parental involvement.
- Stress over time; Although online interactions may seem fun and stress-free, children should never underestimate the impact words can have on their wellbeing over time. It is extremely important to teach them how to communicate respectfully with others online so they don't develop a habit of being hostile or apathetic towards peers who disagree with their point of view - especially if it's about serious topics like politics or race.
- Unrealistic expectations about both friendships and relationships; Some children may feel duped by people they've never met in person after experiencing disappointments that stem from never being invited to events, receiving excessive criticism on posts, or being ignored during online conversations.
- Insecurity over appearance and body image; Although no research has been done to confirm this yet, it is likely that social media can have a negative impact of body image for children as well as adults - especially if they compare themselves to people who are edited or airbrushed in photos before uploading them onto their profile. Although some children may seem more extroverted and happier when on social media, it's important you understand the psychological implications associated with excessive exposure to online content that promotes unrealistic ideals about relationships and beauty stereotypes. Excessive use could be harmful both psychologically and socially.
Tips for parents to help their children have a healthy relationship with social media
Here are some suggestions on ways parents can help their children have a healthy relationship with social media:
- It's important for both parents and kids to understand the different ways it may impact them psychologically especially if they begin friendships, join cliques or form new relationships through social media. Parents should never view this as a threat - but rather another way children may develop meaningful connections with others at a young age.
- Although social media makes it easy for children to feel like they have many 'friends,' this doesn't mean that these friendships will come as easily as a click of a button. It may be difficult for them to understand the value behind having a friendship without so much instant gratification - but it's important that parents remind their children that these connections can take time and effort . It doesn't matter whether or not they're cyber friends; the world needs real, genuine people who will stick with you throughout life.
- Even though many adults use Facebook and Instagram daily, we often forget how easy it is for our words to be interpreted inaccurately or misconstrued altogether. Before we respond emotionally and lash out at someone through social media (or even in person), we should ask ourselves: Would I say this offline? If yes - is it worth risking our wellbeing and relationships for?
- It's important to teach children to communicate respectfully with others online so they don't develop a habit of being hostile or apathetic towards peers who disagree with their point of view. Although it may be easy to shut out ideas that challenge your own, it ultimately hurts everyone when people stop listening - especially if you're trying to contribute something meaningful.
- Exposure to excessive amounts of content that promotes unrealistic ideals about relationships and beauty can have an impact on young kids well into adulthood. Parents should be aware of what their children are exposed to when browsing through social media accounts - even when they are viewing them in secret. They might not understand how harmful this content may be; but we all know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If we teach our children that this behaviour is okay - it can potentially lead to severe depression and low self-esteem if they begin comparing themselves with others too frequently and excessively.
- Have time alone and offline - although social media can bring about opportunities for children to connect with new people, it has also been responsible for more distractions than ever before. Without proper balance between virtual and analogue, kids might struggle to enjoy their personal lives offline because many forms of social media promote a fast-paced lifestyle where everything must be done quickly (and usually in excess). Parents should not only monitor what their children do online but firm boundaries on when they should use it.
- Allow your kids to make mistakes on social media. We all know how easy it is for things posted on social media to go viral within seconds; despite if they're meant to be private or not (ahem, any DM's you've sent before). Because of this, some parents might want to step in and monitor their child's online activity so they don't get themselves into trouble . But there are many benefits of allowing children more freedom on the internet, such as teaching them the repercussions of impulsive decisions so they can learn from their mistakes at an early age . This will also allow more time for self-reflection later in life when kids become adults.
Though social media can have negative effects on children's wellbeing if not used in moderation, it also has many benefits.
Parents should be mindful of what their children are exposed to online, but also allow them freedom to make mistakes.
With the right balance between the virtual and real world, children should be able to enjoy their personal lives offline while learning from their mistakes on social media at an early age.