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It can be difficult to broach the topic in casual conversation. Your teenager quietly pulls out their phone, engages in conversations with people across the globe, then slides the phone away. While social media has connected people in unprecedented ways, social media habits are, paradoxically, something we tend to keep private.

But things shouldn’t be this way in your household. In fact, social media use can negatively impact your child’s mental well-being. Rather than being thought of as the mere tool that it is, it can come to take a place of disproportional importance in your child’s life. It’s time to have a dialogue with your kid about social media.

Social Media & Empathy

Social media can have a powerful impact on your mental well-being. This was proven in 2014 by Facebook itself, when the company revealed that it had been surreptitiously conducting psychological experiments in order to see if they could alter the emotional state of its users. The results of their studies showed that, when they manipulated news feeds to show a disproportionate amount of negative news and comments, users tended to post more negative content themselves. Likewise, positivity was met with positivity.

On the other hand, for those suffering from conditions such as depression, seasonal affective disorder, or bipolar disorder, social media can be practically toxic. Nerve-racking news headlines and downbeat status updates can exacerbate your negative feelings. Furthermore, instead of responding to positivity in kind, photographs of smiling couples and hoorays over job promotions can make you feel inadequate — and drag you deeper into a negative hole.

Depression is a major issue in modern society, and, unchecked, social media can worsen its symptoms. As a parent, you can help by being watchful for signs of depression. As noted by Rebecca Lahey, mental health service coordinator of Rush University, “Depression is like most other chronic conditions. It’s manageable and preventable, but first it must be identified.”

Ask your child how spending time on social media makes them feel. This can be a great signal to you regarding whether or not he or she has a healthy relationship with social media. Do they feel a greater sense of interconnectedness with friends and family? Or do they feel isolated? Does social media evoke negative feelings, such as apprehension or jealousy? Depending on the answers, it may be time to discuss healthy social media etiquette.

How to Improve Your Child’s Relationship With Social Media

Given the clear effects that social media can have on an individual’s well-being, it behooves parents to monitor and regularly discuss their child’s social media behavior. Here are a few tips for those looking to begin a dialogue:

? Discuss your own social media usage; aim to model ideal etiquette. This will help you to teach better etiquette and help your child open up about their own online experiences.
? Discourage your child from comparing themselves to others that they interact with online. Not only will this help him or her recontextualize social media in a more positive light, it will prevent unhealthy consumer habits in the future, such as hoarding and compulsive buying disorder.
? Help your child understand the possible social (and even legal) ramifications of their behavior online. Discuss the fact that, regardless of their online handle, they are never truly “anonymous” — and that they can be held responsible for immoral or illegal behavior.
? Have your kid keep a “social media journal” for a few weeks. Ask for them to track why they feel compelled to check their social media, what posts have an emotional impact on them, and how they feel after using it. You may even want to incentivize this with extra spending money or reduced chores. This will be an invaluable tool when you discuss their social media use.

Of course, you should be watchful for symptoms of clinical depression. As stated in a resource by Bradley University, everyone will at some point, “experience sadness, anxiety or temporary depression.” It is important to distinguish between “temporary feelings of sadness or unhappiness” and “clinical depression involving symptoms that persist over a period of time and have a negative impact on a patient’s daily life and his or her ability to function.” If your child finds it difficult to function in day-to-day life, seriously consider seeking the counsel of a professional.

Social media does not inherently foster negative attitudes or mental problems. Every day, new practical applications for information on social media are explored. In fact, in the not-too-distant future, health professionals may even use this information to diagnose patients. On the other hand, children and teenagers need to be taught how to properly engage with others online. Unregulated social media use can lead to unhealthy habits and even mental illness. Talk with your child today, and help them find the path to a more positive relationship with social media.

Author: Andy Quayle

Andy was born in the Isle of Man and currently lives in Pittsburgh.
Known globally as a willing source for tech news and views, Andy takes great pride in consultation and education.

Should his schedule permit, Andy is available to help you with your SEO and Web Analytics needs.