As evidence mounts about social media’s potential harms to children, parents and caregivers should know there are steps they can take to minimize the risks, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement said Wednesday.
“Social media can have both positive and negative impacts on young people,” ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson said. “Along with providing opportunities for education, entertainment and communication, social media can expose children to cyberbullying, promote bad habits, and fuel depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Parents and caregivers need to know what the dangers are and what they can do to safeguard children from harm.”
ACHI offered the following recommendations:
Monitor time on social media.
Research has shown that 12-to-15-year-olds who spend more than three hours a day on social media are at double the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems compared to their peers who do not use social media. Unfortunately, among 8th and 10th graders who report any social media use, the average time spent on social media is 3.5 hours per day. Parents and caregivers should use screen-time monitoring tools, which are built into most devices, to understand how much time children spend online. Most parental controls also allow time limits to be set on devices or individual apps.
Ensure social media use does not disrupt sleep.
Excessive social media use has been linked to insufficient sleep and poor quality of sleep. Poor sleep in adolescents has been linked to altered brain development and suicidal thoughts, among other issues. To help ensure children get enough sleep, parents and caregivers can work with children to agree on screen-free nights starting at least one hour before bedtime and use parental controls to have devices automatically lock at a set time each evening.
Protect children from inappropriate content.
Almost two-thirds of children say they are “often” or “sometimes” exposed to hate-based content on social media. Nearly 6 in 10 adolescent girls say they have been contacted on social media by a stranger who made them feel uncomfortable. Parents and caregivers should work with children to adopt healthy social media practices such as blocking or reporting unwanted or inappropriate content, reaching out when they see harassment, understanding the implications of cyberbullying, and not sharing personal information online.
Additional information and resources are available on ACHI’s website at: achi.net/youthsocialmedia
A video message from Dr. Joe Thompson, “Social Media and the Well-Being of Arkansas Youth,” available on YouTube below
A video by ACHI on how to find and use parental controls on mobile devices, available on YouTube below