People of all ages are spending a significant amount of their time on social media. Some use the platforms as a way to stay connected with family and friends, while others use them to network, advertise and find job opportunities. With social media, young people have found new ways to connect with each other, contributing to inappropriate discussions and bullying, among others.
Social media’s impact on children’s mental health is still up for debate. There has been a lack of research, which is partly to blame. Some studies show that children can benefit from small-group interactions online, while other studies show an increase in anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
The process of analyzing social media is also difficult because it’s constantly changing and evolving. Furthermore, there have not been any long-term studies conducted. As a result, we can only make educated guesses based on current research. A lifetime of living on “likes” is not backed up by enough data to make a final verdict.
You might find it difficult to understand the appeal of some of the social media platforms if you haven’t grown up with them. Yet for young people, all the scrolling, liking, following, and taking selfies is often the main way to share and communicate with their friends and keep up with events.
Another factor is FOMO—fear of missing out. The risk of missing jokes, connections, and invitations increases when everyone is using social media sites. Missing experiences can cause stress and depression. When individuals see they aren’t included in an activity on the internet, it can influence their thoughts and feelings, as well as their physical wellbeing.
Popular Social Media Platforms
The majority of adolescents, 40% of girls and 20% of boys, say they spend three or more hours a day |using social media. In terms of popularity, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter top the list.
Snapchat, a photo-sharing platform, is one of the most popular social media amongst teenagers. The photos shared via this platform are deleted as soon as the receiver sees them while also allowing users to post photos that last for 24 hours via Snapchat stories.
Users on Instagram can share “stories” for 24 hours but can also upload photos or videos that remain on their profiles. The photos and videos one posts to Instagram can be viewed by anyone unless one sets their account to private. Instagram is often used as a form of photo blogging, showing travel videos and everyday life, and sharing an interest in art, cooking, and other activities.
Like Instagram, users on Facebook can upload, share, and view media files such as images and videos. It also allows users to share articles, information about their lives or talk to their friends either through text messages or through a voice call and video call. The video-sharing site YouTube allows users to upload original videos. With Twitter, users can post photos, share thoughts and updates in under 280 characters.
Benefits of Social Media
There are some positives to using social media. Children can feel connected through it, and their relationships with friends can be strengthened. In a study published in Pediatrics, it was found that regularly using social media can benefit children and teens by increasing communication, social interaction, and technical skills.
The social aspect of human development is hardwired, and social media provides an instant and easy way for children to socialize. When children do not have easy access to face-to-face socializing or problems of social anxiety, social media can be a useful tool for connecting with other children.
Social media can serve as a source of support and friendship among teens in marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ teens and those with health issues. Teens can find support and connection via social media when they connect with small groups of other supportive teens.
Negative Impacts and Risks of Social Media
Phone Addiction: A new study, Digital Wellbeing 2020, indicates almost half of teenagers admit to being addicted to their smartphones. The majority of respondents also felt their relationship with technology negatively affected their lives (diet, sleep, exercise, and schoolwork).
Access to Inappropriate or harmful content: Children are exposed to violent, racist, or hateful content or that contains pornographic material. Pornography is more likely to be stumbled upon by accident than intentionally searched for by children and young people. Upon accessing pornography for the first time, young people reported, they experienced a mixture of curiosity, shock, confusion, and disgust.
Cyberbullying: Young girls are more likely than their male counterparts to be targeted through the use of social media, although boys are certainly not immune to it. Psychological studies have linked cyberbullying to depression, anxiety, and risk for suicidal thinking. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying, and a lack of necessary actions at an appropriate time might lead to severe consequences.
Sleep Disruption: Social media at night might disrupt a child’s sleep. Children between the ages of 5 and 16 should get between 9 and 11 hours of sleep every night. Getting inadequate sleep can have a detrimental effect on their learning at school and increase their risk for depression and anxiety.
Social Media & Its Connection to Mental Health
In what ways might social media negatively impact mental health? A substantial link has been found between depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as social media usage suggesting that time spent on these platforms may be linked to depression and anxiety. These studies do not, however, directly link social media to these conditions.
There is little information available regarding whether social media use causes depression and anxiety or whether people with more anxiety and depression tend to use social media more frequently. Research does appear to indicate that social media use may cause these symptoms, at least to some degree. According to a study in 2020, people who deactivated their Facebook accounts were less depressed, less anxious, and happier and satisfied.
Additionally, social media can create unrealistic views of people’s lives, leading to peer pressure and unhealthy comparisons. Social media use has likely increased for kids during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another cause could be a sense of isolation due to social distancing.
Recent research from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that adolescents may be more vulnerable to poor mental health outcomes during the pandemic, as loneliness and isolation may increase and the lack of mental health resources during school closures.An extended stay at home could lead to parental tension and confrontation.
The use of social media is associated with more than just anxiety and depression. According to research on adolescents, social media negatively impacts both girls’ and boys’ body images. As social media usage increases, more people monitor their bodies and embrace judgmental attitudes about them. Body surveillance practitioners report a greater sense of shame about their bodies.
How parents can help
The freedom parents give their children must be balanced against the need to monitor their activities without violating their privacy. Usually, parents and guardians aren’t required to track everything their adolescents and teenagers do online. Parents, however, must be on the lookout for signs that their child’s social media usage is negatively impacting their mental health.
Children under 13 cannot have their personal information collected by web services without their parents’ express permission under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Since children register for accounts on social media, they must self-report their age, and they can then lie about their age.
The highest levels of happiness are reported among moderate internet users. (One to two hours per day). Establish rules regarding when, where, and how long social media can be used in your household. Structures are important from an early age, so the child develops good habits and understands boundaries.
Children who are monitored learn that whatever information they share online is a permanent marker of their identity. It shouldn’t be posted if they don’t want their parents to see it.
It is possible to prevent your children from years of mental health issues if you speak honestly with them about what they do with apps and what they see. Invoke courage in your conversations so that your kids know you are there to guide them when it comes to tech use.
Focusing on the positive aspects of social media has been a recurring theme in the resources and advice about counteracting the negative effects of its use on youth mental health. Parents and teachers must pay close attention to signs that their children are experiencing cognitive damage from social media. It is also important that they teach children safe online practices so that they do not become victims of exposing their personal information or suffering abuse online.
Children and young people’s mental health can be adversely impacted by social media usage. There is a range of consequences, including anxiety, depression, body image concerns, self-harm, and substance abuse. Nevertheless, social media is a powerful tool for young people to network, stay in touch with friends, exchange information, gain support and advice, and find a wealth of knowledge. The use of social media by children and young people should not be prohibited, given all its benefits. Children need to be protected from harm by schools, parents, and companies in the digital industry by taking a proactive approach rather than reacting to crises on the spot.