What do you do when there is a pause in conversation or have a small break? Do you nap, stretch, pick up a book, or scroll through social media. I can safely say a majority of the world chooses the last option. Previous surveys suggest that 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times per day (Schurgin 801). Thanks to smart phones access to social media is omnipresent. There is probably a good chance you are even reading this from your phone because it was shared on your timeline. Both parents and pediatricians need to understand social media can have a negative impact on their children and patients especially teenagers, and be able to provide guidance to them.
Since I have your attention, I want you to try a thought experiment. Think about the last time you were on Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook. Your friends are sending pictures of their amazing vacation to Greece, Japan, or Mexico. They are modeling their delicious food and cultural experiences. Now, how do you feel at this moment? How do you feel while sitting in your cubicle or lying on your couch after your hard day at work? How do you think your children feel when they see the same photos?
When we see these photos and experiences its natural to compare our experiences. However, it is very easy to look at our lives “unfiltered” and feel a sense of loss. As a media user, I have felt this feeling. I have felt the fear of missing out and I am not alone.
Let’s talk about usage. How do you or does your child use social media? Are you actively posting or casually browsing others’ posts? Research performed at UT Dallas shows passive browsing to be more harmful to mental health. Adolescents were at increased risk of depression and anxiety. In 2016, a Scottish study evaluated social media’s impact on sleep and self-esteem in adolescence. They found adolescence with increased social media use, at night and overall, had lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression and anxiety.
Social media skews our perception of experiences by representing only positive experiences. We are catching a glimpse of the best moments in people’s days. That glimpse is enough to prompt you to compare your life to theirs. Picture centric media platforms like Instagram are more likely to promote appearance and life comparisons with others. As a result, adolescents and adults may feel more negatively about their self-image.
Researchers have proposed a phenomenon called “Facebook depression” (Schurgin 802). Social media exposure can be a trigger for depression in some adolescents. Although Facebook has seen a decrease in usage, the premise is still relevant. Teenagers are at a critical point in their lives when acceptance by peers is crucial.
Social media has benefits as well as drawbacks. Social media provides children and teenagers the opportunity to collaborate within their community. They can stay in touch with friends and share ideas. They learn from podcasts, videos, and even blogs like this one. Social media can be used to develop social skills. A great example is the ability for students to work collaboratively on class projects together with ease. There is a myriad of benefits for our children.
Unfortunately, those benefits come with risks. Social media can contribute to anxiety and depression, but it’s only one of the many contributing factors in most cases. We can start to understand the impact of social media on well-being by understanding what makes social media so fun. Parents need to understand what their teenagers are talking about. When social media is used right it can be enjoyable and safe. Parents need to understand the technology that adolescents are using and also be able to openly discuss how their kids are using it. Social media is prevalent throughout our entire lives so we must treat it as part of our daily routine.
Pediatricians should encourage parents to create an online plan for themselves and their children. The plan can include discussing online issues and checking privacy settings. The goal is to encourage well-being and safe practices on the internet. Social media is omnipresent; however, it does not have to be omnipotent. We are in control of how we use it and how it makes us feel.
Matthew Hibbs, M.D.
Okeeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800–804. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-0054
Psychologists Examine Mental Toll of Passive Social Media Use. (2019, September 26). Retrieved October 2, 2019, from https://utdallas.edu/news/research/social-media-fear-missing-out-2019/.
Woods, H. C., & Scott, H. (2016). #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of Adolescence, 51, 41–49. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.05.008