Pre-COVID-19, children in the U.S. averaged 2 hours of screen time a day. When COVID-19 erupted, digital use skyrocketed as families began working and learning from home. Parents and kids found themselves increasingly relying on online platforms for communication of all sorts. Being isolated made social media more important for everyday life to feel connected and offset the isolation quarantine created. I know our use of devices and social media went up a lot since 2020.
The fairytale idea of social media is a good one. Social media can be a very good thing but often ends up being a very, very bad thing. In a perfect world, social media and children could go hand in hand. After all, social media has the potential to:
- Help kids make and maintain friendships.
- Share meaningful and creative content.
- Increase skills sets via writing, gaming, and podcasting.
- Increase diversity in their lives.
- Provide essential skillsets for a digitally driven workforce.
While social media has the potential to shape and influence children, it also has the potential to cause great harm. Social media and children’s mental health are intricately intertwined and can be damaged. From the physical dangers caused by devices to the emotional dangers of online vulnerability, there are a lot of reasons to be wary of mixing social media and children.
Devices Are Dangerous for Children’s Physical Health
All electronic devices create an electromagnetic field or EMF. This means an amount of energy is emitted from all devices, including smartphones, computers, tablets, and more. Even our televisions, microwaves, and lamps emit EMFs. Our bodies also create electrical and biochemical activity. EMFs can interact with our bodies and have an adverse effect that may impact our health.
EMFs can influence the cells in our bodies by absorbing the energy and thermal heat given off by electronic devices, which can increase the free-radical production inside of our cells. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, damaging the cell membranes, impairing metabolic function, and ultimately altering our DNA! Children, who are still developing, are at an even higher risk than adults. Studies have linked EMFs to autism, ADHD, and obesity in children.
The blue light emitted from devices is known to have an effect on our circadian rhythm. This is the sleep/wake cycle we rely on to refresh and repair our bodies for each new day. Blue light interrupts our sleep cycle, which means our bodies don’t get the full rest they need. This can affect how our minds heal themselves at night and how our bodies repair themselves during our state of inactivity. Rest periods are especially important to children and adolescents who experience rapid changes in their bodies on a daily basis.
Devices are Dangerous for Children’s Mental Health
There’s no denying we should be protecting our children’s physical health by limiting their exposure to and use of devices. As parents, it’s our duty to keep our kids physically safe, but there may be a bigger threat to our children when it comes to devices and social media.
In the short time that social media has been available, it has changed how people of all ages engage with one another. While the genesis of social media may have been to stay in touch, it has long since morphed into something early adopters may have never expected. There are a variety of social media platforms and apps with more coming on the scene. Each has its own unique way of operating, but there is a consistent theme emerging from them all. Each opens up the possibility and probability that children will experience depression and cyberbullying. Sadly, social media and children’s mental health may not be a healthy mix.
Is Facebook Depression a Real Thing?
Facebook has been around for a long time. Our children are the first generation where their entire lives from conception through adulthood will likely be documented online, leaving an incredible digital footprint. Excited parents sharing their experiences of their pregnancies, birth stories, and children’s childhoods expose their children to a digital documentary with or without their consent.
Children grow up being shared, posted, and liked by their family members and witness their parents and other family using their social media day in and day out. This makes using social media as normal as wearing clothes or riding in a car. It makes having social media of some sort a given, even expected. Children are often posing for photos or staring in their family’s videos from infancy.
The trouble comes when worth and value are tied to unhealthy and often unattainable standards. Filtered photos, well-captioned lives, and social clout are indicative of success, acceptance, and #goals. Sadly, Facebook depression has been considered a real risk to adolescents and teens by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The influence that social media has on our children’s esteem is immense. From comparing themselves to others to seeing questionable and potentially dangerous content, all the way to cyberbullying.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying, also known as online harassment, happens when social media is used to harass, harm, or be hostile deliberately. The most current example is cancel culture, which is the act of ostracizing someone from a group- either social or professional, by public humiliation via social media.
Cyberbullying happens to one in 3 children, with 59% of teens reporting having been bullied online. Bullying can be public via comments or privately sent via messenger features on different platforms. Cyberbullying statistics are ever-changing, and increasing numbers of children are reporting online harassment.
Cyberbullying tends to be more intense than other forms of bullying because it is public, and bullies tend to use intense language and behavior because they are not engaging face-to-face with their victims. Trolls may be known or anonymous and tend to use cut-throat tactics to inflict harm.
It’s important to know that while your child has the potential to be bullied online, they equally have the potential to be a bully. It is equally important to watch out for their safety, whether it’s protecting them from harm or inflicting it.
Parents Can Protect their Children When it Comes to Social Media and Mental Health
As parents, we have a tremendous influence over our children and their experience with social media. I’ve made important decisions that help keep my children safe, and I know you can use them too.
First, delay your child’s access to social media as long as possible. Your child will undoubtedly want to use social media long before they should. Remember, your child’s brain isn’t fully developed, and their impulse control isn’t in place. Stand firm and use your best judgment for when they should have social media. We got our 11-year-old a phone for Christmas this year to use when she babysits. It’s a Gabb phone and it does not have any social media on it! She can call, text, take pictures, and listen to music — that’s it! If you want to check if out, use coupon code REALFOODRN for 15% off at checkout.
Second, curb your own conduct. Your behavior influences your child. How much emphasis you put on social media, how you use it, and how much time you engage with social media becomes a standard. If you are always on your device, you are sending a message. Be conscientious about how and when you use social media to have the best influence possible.
Finally, keep kids busy. Idle kids are bored kids. Bored kids tend to use social media as an escape. Plus, they often find themselves envious of the lives and experiences their peers are having. Keep your kids involved in activities and find outlets to help them express themselves. This builds their esteem, keeps them from being idle, and fills up their time with healthy activities. Social media has the potential to be a wonderful outlet for children, but it should be watched carefully. But unmonitored social media and children can be a disastrous combination. Our children’s mental health could be at risk if we don’t educate our kids and help them use social media in a healthy and positive way.