By: Lujuana Milton, Owner and Therapist
Social media has its benefits. The connection that it provides can is awe-inspiring. Social media has transformed from a way to connect with friends to changing one’s personal, social, dating, job and school life. As a therapist who has worked with children, I have directly seen the impact that social media has had on children and adolescents. I have witnessed how social media has become a blackhole of negative experiences, including anonymous bullying, sexualized behavior, and social isolation.
According to research by Primack et al (2018), they found that an increase in negative experiences on social media was associated with a 20% increase in depressive symptoms. Coupled with changes in hormones and typical childhood and adolescent stressors, this can be devastating not only to the child, but to the entire family. As parents, you may feel powerless to the unseen face behind a screen rarely to be exposed and their behaviors addressed. So many times, schools have difficulty addressing these issues that did not occur on school grounds with little idea about the identity of those responsible.
So what can you do as parents? It may be helpful to set healthy limits earlier rather than later on how much time your child spends on social media. Focusing on early limitations sets up an expectation that your child should be involved and participating in other activities away from their screens. These activities can be focused on participating in social activities like sports or creative arts which has been proven to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and improve self-esteem. I recommend you start this early in a child’s life as it can be difficult to institute these changes in later in adolescence when the routine and behaviors have already been solidified and can be hard to break.
It is also important to have discussions with your child around self-esteem and self-worth. Often times, we are conditioned to tie our sense of self and worth in how others view us, which is why these filtered versions of our lives are published for the world to see. It’s important to highlight with your child that they are who they are and that is okay. Their worth is not determined by how others view them or how many likes or double taps they can get. Start this conversation early with your child affirming their self worth and improving their self-esteem.
What happens when your child is already having negative experiences with social media? This is where a discussion is important. Find out what is going on, how your child is feeling, how they have or are dealing with the issue, and what way (if any) can you help. Focus on supporting them and encouraging them to advocate appropriately for themselves. Remind them that you will be there as a support and advocate should they require you or need you to be. As parents, you have to toe the line between allowing your child time to work out a solution, but be there should they need extra support.
Social media is a wonderful tool that has transformed throughout the years. Having a healthier relationship with social media will hopefully increase more positive experiences and thus reduce the risk of a presence of depressive symptoms. As parents, it’s important to teach your child the benefits of social media, while being aware of the negative aspects of it to reduce the likelihood of negative experiences.
Brian A. Primack, Meghan A. Bisbey, Ariel Shensa, Nicholas D. Bowman, Sabrina A. Karim, Jennifer M. Knight, Jaime E. Sidani. The association between valence of social media experiences and depressive symptoms. Depression and Anxiety, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/da.22779