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Surgeon General reports puts social media in a medical light

Social Media

Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. And now, TikTok! These are the most popular social media platforms where millions of people log in daily to express their feelings, post information, get news updates, gossip and more! Originally, these activities were all in fun and were hobbies at best. However, now that social media has a shelf life of more than 15 years, data is showing some of the negative impacts it can have physically and mentally on users.

Last month, the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said he believes 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms, because although sites allow children of that age to join, kids are still “developing their identity.”  (source: CNN)

Murthy went on to acknowledge that it will be difficult keeping children off these platforms given their popularity, but suggested that parents can find success by presenting a united front.

“If parents can band together and say you know, as a group, we’re not going to allow our kids to use social media until 16 or 17 or 18 or whatever age they choose, that’s a much more effective strategy in making sure your kids don’t get exposed to harm early,” he told CNN.

As a physician and parent, I am well aware of the mental effects that social media can have on youth. Growing up, my generation did not have to worry about how many “likes” or “followers” we had. We were not concerned about what our photos and videos looked like nor did we have to monitor comments to see how our posts were being received. Whew! It’s a lot of pressure to maintain a life online, even for adults!

So where do we draw the line to protect the mental health of our youth when it comes to social media? There is no silver bullet solution, but here are a few tips that begin to address this issue:

  1. Have a conversation to decide when your child will be allowed to get on social media. Children mature at a different rate physically and mentally. Parents, talk with your children to determine why they want to be on social media and what type of activity they seek to engage in. Discuss which platform is most age appropriate then monitor their activity on that platform.
  2. Limit your child’s time on social media. Not only does staring at screens for hours impact one’s vision, but the content your child may be consuming could be too adult in nature, and possibly harmful. In addition to monitoring their activity, limit their time spent on the devices. Specify when phone/computer time is over. There are even apps/phone features that monitor app use and will the platform once the usage time has been reached.
  3. Encourage other activities for your child(ren) to participate in. There was life before social media! Youth have all types of extracurricular activities, sports, hobbies and clubs that can draw their attention. As parents, push the envelope for them to explore these activities instead of making social media and online gaming the go-to entertainment.
  4. Conduct periodic check-ins with your child(ren) about social media. Talk to your child(ren) about social media. Hopefully you are connected to them on their pages, but if not, ask them about their posts, whether anyone is bullying them online and just how they feel overall about their online activity. Retrieve their phones and review activity if need be.

Opening the doors of regular communication about social media will make it easier for you to determine if there is something wrong. Things like a change in behavior, appetite, temperament, interaction with others can all be indicators linked to mental health. Don’t ignore the signs! Staying engaged in your child’s online life is not only an act of love, but an obligation. Their mental health matters!

Dr. Janet Seabrook

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