By Megan Farnam

Children and teens today are navigating a world that nobody at their age and point of development has ever had to encounter in previous generations. While social media is great for being a form of self-expression, an outlet to communicate, and a way to network all over the world, there are some serious downsides as well. There is so much pressure to have an active presence on social media, but once they have an account they are under constant scrutiny and opening themselves up for cyberbullying and other potential harms. Children and teens do not know a world without social media, it is a part of their social life and how they communicate with others.

A teenagers’ social media accounts are viewed as an extension of who they are. There is judgement over what their profile picture looks like, who they are “friends” with on social media platforms, and who and what photos or accounts they are “liking” while online.

Studies are showing the negative side effects that these social media accounts can have on children and teens ranging from depressive symptoms, mood disorders, social anxiety, eating disorders and drug and alcohol use/abuse to name a few. Research shows that even being a passive user who spends their time online monitoring others’ posts is connected to depression and lower self-image. In contrast, active self-oriented users who spend their time on social media posting about themselves or connecting with others show less instances of depression and a higher sense of self. Since appearance seems to be more important to teen and adolescent girls rather than boys and girls internalize body ideals and standards that are shown in the media more than boys, it stands to reason that social media will affect girls more strongly than boys, both positively and negatively.

Children and teens are spending 5-8 hours of their day behind a screen, with a large portion of that time spent posting or scrolling through social media. Another troubling fact about social media usage is the activities that are being replaced by these 5-8 hours a day. Children are choosing to spend their time on or behind a screen instead of doing physical activities, spending time outside, or interacting with others face-to-face.

Parents now have the added responsibility of educating their children about privacy online, what information that should and should not share, and monitoring and controlling the time their children spend online. Tools like Bark exist to help parents manage where and how long their children are spending their time. Other options for parents are to encourage a “vacation” from social media from an extended period of time, create a “bucket list” of things that their children would like to accomplish that does not involve them being behind a screen, encourage them to spend as much time outside or spending time with their friends in person.


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