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Safeguarding Your Child’s Mental Well-being from Detrimental Effects of Social Media: Insights from Nordstrom


Sep 16, 2023

Social media has become an essential tool for connecting with others, staying informed, and interacting. However, it is important to be aware of the potentially negative impact it can have on adolescent brain development. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently issued an advisory highlighting the potential harm social media can have on children’s mental health. The report revealed that a staggering 95% of teenagers aged 13 to 17 use social media, with more than a third using it “almost always.” Even children between the ages of 8 and 12, who are not eligible to use most platforms, make up 40% of social media users. This excessive use has been linked to an increased risk of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Other issues mentioned in the report include body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, poor sleep, and disordered eating behavior. These findings are consistent with what UnitedHealthcare providers often observe in their patients, including harmful comparisons, restricted face-to-face contact, loneliness, and increased rates of anxiety and depression.

Dr. Donald Tavakoli, UnitedHealthcare’s national medical director for behavioral health, emphasizes that the time children spend online can significantly impact their overall development. The Surgeon General’s recommendations are particularly relevant as the mental health of young people remains a crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 children has a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, but only a small percentage receive the necessary care from a mental health provider — approximately 20%.

Given the alarming statistics, it is understandable that parents may feel overwhelmed when addressing issues related to social media use. However, there are steps parents can take to help reduce the potential harm. First and foremost, it is essential to have an understanding of the latest social media apps and platforms. This knowledge allows parents to set appropriate limits and boundaries for their children. With children’s brains undergoing significant developmental changes, it is crucial to ensure that social channels promoting excessive scrolling and seeking validation through likes are limited. It is also important to restrict chatting with strangers and to prevent exposure to inappropriate content.

Creating a family social media plan is another effective strategy. This involves establishing clear guidelines and boundaries for social media use within the family. This could include setting limits on screen time, discussing online safety measures, and protecting personal privacy. The Academy of Pediatrics provides templates that can help guide parents through this process.

Communication between parents and children is key. Regular, non-judgmental, open, and honest conversations about social media activity should take place. Parents should ask their children questions about what they see on social media, discuss possible scenarios, and help them understand the signs of cyberbullying and the potential consequences of persistent online posts.

Establishing a tech-free zone within the household is beneficial. By limiting the use of electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime and during the night, potential disruptions to sleep can be avoided. Research has shown that screen time in the evening can significantly impact the production of melatonin, making it difficult to fall asleep. Additionally, encouraging face-to-face conversation during mealtimes and other social activities helps children develop social skills and meaningful friendships.

Parents should also model healthy behavior on social media. Children often learn by observing their parents’ actions and habits. It is crucial for parents to set a good example by limiting their own social media usage and being responsible for what they post online. When using devices, parents should communicate with their children, explaining what they are doing and why.

Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that while social media can have negative effects, it also has benefits. It allows users to build connections, find communities with shared interests, and express themselves. Encouraging children to develop a healthy relationship with technology is essential. However, given that adolescent brains are still developing, adults cannot fully comprehend the impact social media may have. It is therefore crucial for parents to take an active role in helping their children use social media safely.

In conclusion, social media has become an integral part of our lives, especially for adolescents. While it offers numerous benefits, it is essential to be mindful of the potential negative effects it can have on mental health and brain development. By staying informed, setting boundaries, and fostering open communication, parents can play a crucial role in ensuring their children use social media responsibly and safely.

By Editor

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