It is estimated that young people between the ages of 8 to 28 spend about 44.5 hours each week in front of digital screens, according to the Center for Parenting Education, and during the pandemic, Common Sense Media found that overall screen use was upward of eight hours a day for teens ages 13 to 18. While every parent has a different strategy to take on screen time, it always requires great responsibility.
Young people often have online relationships with people they don’t know from different countries, states, counties, schools. This is dangerous for a couple of reasons. They could be forming relationships with people who aren’t who they say they are (predators), and they aren’t developing social skills that are essential to building healthy relationships.
There are more and more social challenges because you can delete/block people online at the first sign of disagreement. Instead of learning conflict resolution, we can type rather than having a real intimate conversation, which interferes with the ability to form positive communication skills.
Texts and messaging can often be screenshot and shared. This can result in opportunities for blackmailing and cyberbullying.
Kids who post pictures with specific information such as high schools, employment and other locations may be tipping off nefarious people who could follow them online and then know where to find them in real life. This could be a threat to safety.
Chat group bullying often gets deleted or “disappears.” Kids don’t leave the chats. The fear of not knowing what is said about them is as bad as what they say. Anxiety tries to control the information and usually does not favor the bullied, so it leaves young people confused and conflicted.
Posts of perfection are often edited and are carefully selected from hundreds of photos. This leads children to believe that their lives are less satisfying, and often leads to body image issues – that is, they don’t measure up. It also leads to the idea that there are perfect relationships, which they try to emulate but can’t find or hold onto. This is directly linked to an increase in depression and anxiety.
Posts glamorize mental health and substance use disorders. It’s great to see we are reducing the stigma of such conditions, though most young people learn from the internet, so they don’t always get the best information. Sometimes, it’s more than they are capable of processing due to age and maturity – and of course they need guidance from family, if the family is even aware.
This article isn’t meant to stoke fear or make you feel guilty about the amount of time your child spends on social media, but it is important to stay alert. Research tells us we are not alone with this struggle, and youth in particular.
The world has changed. Social media isn’t going away and can be an incredible way to make and maintain lifetime connections. As a parent, it is important to be aware of the issues related to social media usage, and be prepared when faced with a challenge. Set boundaries with your children and be sure they are responsible with their digital lives.