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The Social Media Dilemma: How Children’s Mental Health May Be Affected

girl using cell phone under covers

Social media’s allure is undeniable, especially for kids. Within an instant, children can connect with friends, share thoughts in a vlog, research a school paper, or scroll through posts from their latest celebrity crush—all from the comfort of their beds.

According to the 2019 Common Sense Media Census, children aged eight to twelve spend close to five hours each day on a screen, while teens are online for close to seven and a half hours. The time our kids spend online has a direct effect on their mental health. Too much time on social media can lead to bullying, depression, and anxiety. Spending more than four hours a day online significantly increases a child’s  risk of becoming hyperactive and inattentive, and decreases feelings of self-worth. Social media may be one of the main factors affecting children’s mental health.

As a parent, it’s imperative that you understand the effects of social media on mental health and recognize the signs of any mental health concerns. Make sure you also understand common myths about mental health, and if they’re affecting your point of view. Here’s what you need to know about the pros and cons of social media.

Social Media May Affect Mental Health

How children use social media is directly correlated with their mental health. Children who use social media in a healthy manner can benefit from strong social support systems, resources, and online communities that boost their feelings of connection and self-esteem. However, children with unhealthy online habits may experience negative health outcomes such as anxiety, depression, or hyperactivity.

The Upsides of Social Media

Social media use has some positives. It can help your children feel connected, and strengthen relationships with friends. A study in Pediatrics found that routinely using social media can help children and teens by “enhancing communication, social connection, and even technical skills.”

Other pros of using social media can include:

  • Organizing or participating in a movement for causes they care about.
  • Expressing creativity in a variety of forms.
  • Expanding friend groups to include others with similar interests or different points of view.
  • Finding opportunities to volunteer or become engaged in the community.
  • Connecting with classmates to complete school assignments.

The Downsides of Social Media

While it’s great to feel connected, social media use can also fuel feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Children using social media have a higher risk of mental health issues, and they’re more susceptible to peer pressure. Some of the biggest cons of using social media include:

  • Cyberbullying. Children and teens who spend a lot of time online may experience cyberbullying. This pervasive form of bullying never stops, and adolescents may receive cruel or hurtful messages whenever they’re online. Cyberbullying can trigger anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, low self-esteem, or even suicidal thoughts.
  • Phone addiction. Almost half of the teenagers surveyed in the Digital Wellbeing 2020 study believe they are addicted to their smartphones. Over 50% also felt that their lives (in terms of diet, sleep, exercise, and schoolwork) were negatively impacted by their relationship with technology.
  • Increased anxiety and depression. The longer kids spend on their screens, the more anxious they become. Teens who spend over three hours a day on social media are more likely to internalize their problems, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, and the fear-of-missing-out (FOMO).
  • Disordered sleep. Using phones in bed disrupts sleep, making it difficult to relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep. Kids who don’t sleep well are more likely to have mental health problems such as depression, impulsive behavior, anxiety, and even lower scores on cognitive tests.

Tips to Modify Social Media Use

Helping your child cut back on social media can improve their mental health. Follow these tips for limiting social media use in your home:

  • Install a social media monitoring app to see how much time your child spends on social media platforms.
  • Create restrictions to block apps after a certain time in the evening, or during homework time.
  • Schedule device-free family time. Whether it’s during meals or in the evening, have everyone turn off their devices and focus on each other.
  • Remove devices from bedrooms at night to ensure your kids are getting ample sleep.
  • Plan activities to get kids off their devices and engaging with others, such as volunteering for a local organization or joining a sports team.

Signs Social Media is Impacting Your Kids’ Mental Health

It can be tough to determine whether your child’s mental health is negatively affected by their social media use. Here are a few warning signs to watch for:

  • Spending more time online than with their friends. Spending too much time online can make kids feel detached from the real world and reduce the time they spend doing in-person activities. They may be less active, and have a harder time developing social skills that boost their self-esteem and happiness.
  • Lack of interest in prior passions. It’s common for kids to be afraid of missing out on a text or worried their post isn’t getting enough likes. Your child may be less interested in their prior passions and more interested in checking social media.
  • Lack of sleep. Dealing with a tired, lethargic, or cranky kid? If your child has a device in their room, the alerts could be keeping them up at night. Children who don’t sleep enough are at a much higher risk of mental health problems.
  • They’re being bullied. Cyberbullying is relentless. It happens at all hours of the day and night, decreasing self-esteem, confidence, and happiness. Watch for signs that that your child is being bullied.

Symptoms That Need Immediate Attention

Kids with unhealthy social media habits may require professional intervention. If your child seems very emotional and overly affected by their connection to social media, for example being overtly sad, lonely, or anxious, it’s time to seek help from your doctor.

Watch for these symptoms that require immediate professional help:

  • Giving away possessions.
  • Self-harming or practicing self-destructive behavior.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless, or powerless.
  • Socially isolating from friends and family.
  • Frequent angry outbursts.
  • Eating less or more than usual.

If you’re worried about your child’s mental health, make an appointment to see their pediatrician or primary care doctor to develop a treatment plan.

Consider Pharmacogenetic Testing

If your child’s clinician recommends medication, ask them about genetic testing for mental health medications. This provides more information on how your child may react to certain medications based on their genetic profile, using science known as “pharmacogenetics.” Genomind’s pharmacogenetic testing provides guidance across 10+ mental health conditions and 130+ medications to help clinicians determine:

  • Which medications may be more or less likely to be effective in helping your child
  • Which medications may be more likely to produce side effects
  • How your child may metabolize medications.  If they metabolize medications too quickly, they may be less effective, if they metabolize medications too slowly,  they may be more likely to experience side effects.

The Genomind PGx test requires a prescription. Get started today.

Learn About Your Child’s Genetic Predispositions

For parent-specific suggestions, try our Genomind® Mental Health Map™. This at-home mental health test is a DNA-based assessment tool for mental health and wellness. It provides an analysis of your child’s genetic predispositions across seven Core Genetic Mental Health Capabilities™, including Stress & Anxiety, Mood, and Social Behavior. The report includes tips to help parents combat the negative effects of social media use. Recommendations are non-medication related and evidence-backed, and they’re personalized to your child’s unique genetic makeup.

Find out more about our Mental Health Map™ and get parent-specific suggestions to promote safe social media use and protect your child’s mental health.

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