Going Back to School: Kids and Social Media. Tips for All

Leigh Harris MS, LPC, NCC, CCTP • Contact Leigh

relatecounseling.com  @relatecounsel

Even though the thermometer is showing it's definitely still summer, families are gearing up for kids to go back to school. With school comes changes in schedules, more activities and to-do's with the resulting stress levels in the house increasing in direct proportion.

Back in May, the Surgeon General issued an advisory related to social media's effects on kids' mental health. You can read the advisory in its entirety here: Social Media and Youth Mental Health.

The use of social media for kids is definitely a mixed bag, with effects on mental health not clearly understood yet. There are positive aspects including helping some kids to feel more connected to friends, and enabling them to interact with others more easily so they feel less lonely. However, negative impacts to kids' mental health include problems with anxiety or depression, lower self-esteem, being harassed or bullied by others, being pressured to act a certain way, and exposure to explicit content and predators.

Kids are wired to compare themselves to their peers, in order to track with and be connected to their group to accomplish the difficult job of growing up, but in the social media world this natural tendency becomes too much, and results in unrealistic and harmful expectations. Social comparison driven by social media is associated with body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and depressive symptoms. When asked about the impact of social media on their body image, nearly half (46%) of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse, 40% said it makes them feel neither better nor worse, and only 14% said it makes them feel better. (The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory pg. 8). In addition, social pressure to be a certain way is powerful at the very point when kids need to develop their own internal guidance systems and test the waters in exploring who they are as individuals.

Cyberbullying, harassment, and predatory behavior can create an unsafe environment that harms kids' safety and well-being. Adolescents can be exposed to unhealthy content and messages which can exceed developmental capabilities for their age, increasing levels of anxiety and depression. Kids can spend so much time on social media that other areas of their lives which they need suffer. such as sleep, exercise, schoolwork, actual person-to-person interactions, and interest in hobbies and activities. According to a survey ot 8th and 10th graders, the average time spent on social media is 3.5 hours per day, 1-in-4 spend 54 hours per day and I-in-7 spend 7+ hours per day on social media. A study
conducted among 14-year-olds n = 10,904) found that greater social media use predicted poor sleep, online harassment, poor body image, low self-esteem, and higher depressive symptom scores with a larger
association for girls than boys. (The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory, pg. 7) How do we help our kids navigate the world of social media? Read on for Social Media Tips for Parents and Social Media Tips for Kids.

What Can Parents Do?

(Social Media and Youth Mental Health - The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory, 2023)

Social Media Tips for Parents:

Create a family media plan. Limit your kids' access to social media and use parental controls.

For helpful information on media plans, check out: www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.

  • Create tech-free zones and encourage children to foster in-person friendships. Establish curfews for devices to be left outside of the bedroom at night to foster healthy sleep schedules and
  • Model responsible use of devices and social media behavior. Your kids watch and learn from you.
  • Teach kids about technology and empower them to be responsible online participants at the appropriate age.
  • Report cyberbullying and online abuse and exploitation. Visit CyberTipline, Take it Down, or contact your local law enforcement to report any instances of online exploitation.
  • Work with other parents to help establish shared norms and practices and to support programs and policies around healthy social media use
  • Support and promote device-free programs in schools and communities.

What Can Kids Do?

Social Media Tips for Kids:

Social media is a great way to keep up with friends and stay in touch. However, it can also add a lot of social pressure when you have to constantly "like" and comment on others' posts and collect these on your posts. It can feel like a popularity contest that never ends. Instead, try to focus on real friendships and relationships, as these are what really matter.

Try not to compare. It's easy to compare yourself to others when you look at social media. Remember, people generally use social media in a way that flatters them and may not be accurate. We can't compare ourselves or our lives to others because we are all different and that's a good thing!

  • Think first. Think about what you post before you post it. It's easy to post things that can be hurtful to others in a digital world because we feel more free to say things than we would in person. If you would be hurt if it was said about you, it's better not to post it. Put yourself in others' shoes and think how they might feel if they saw it. And even if we're sharing among "friends", friendships and relationships can change and it might be used later against you. This can be especially true of photos. If it's private, don't post it.
  • Remember, people are not always who they represent themselves to be in the online world. It's easy to be anonymous on the other side of a computer or phone. Don't reveal private information about yourself or your location with others unless you already have a personal relationship. If you meet someone online and would like to meet him or her in person, involve a parent who can make sure it's done in a safe way.
    Take breaks from social media. Try to spend time with people outside of social media and have hobbies and interests that are fulfilling for you.

It's easy to get in over your head. Electronic devices, games and apps are very distracting and are designed to hook us and keep us using them. If you feel that your schoolwork, relationships with friends and family, and your hobbies and interests are suffering because of your devices, ask for help.

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