Without a doubt, social media is a culturally ingrained digital platform among the younger generation. A powerful means to connect and share with others, social media is a part of everyday life even for young children. In fact, a PubMed Central study on social media use reveals that Canadians as young as six years old use platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook. Now, while this same study reveals that social media can be useful with over 70% of kids, saying it helped them avoid feeling lonely, social media has also been proven dangerous for their mental health.
Social Media’s Double-Edged Sword
Before anything else, it’s important to state that social media itself is not bad. However, more recent cultures and attitudes on social media platforms have become increasingly negative. Naturally, this negative environment rubs off on those who are exposed to it. Among youth, this is especially detrimental given they are highly impressionable. As a matter of fact, mental health research from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children pinpoints how current social media has largely contributed to spikes in youth mental health issues. More specifically, social media has been found to encourage feelings of inadequacy and insecurity; the more time youth spend online, the more they’ve reported feeling dissatisfied with their lives and their body image.
On top of this, prolonged social media use has also been shown to cause depression. This has been shown to be especially true among young girls who are often at the receiving end of more online scrutiny. Over time, depression spurred by online interactions can have very real repercussions. As explained in a SymptomFind guide to understanding depression, some symptoms of this include weight changes and body aches. Of course, this is on top of other emotional and behavioural symptoms such as feeling tired, having trouble concentrating, extreme sleep schedules, and mood swings. In worst-case scenarios, depression can even lead to self-harm and suicidal ideation.
Helping Kids be Savvy Online Users
Given the aforementioned adverse effects of social media, it’s paramount that parents teach their kids (and themselves!) how to be safer online. For starters, make sure to inform your children about online conduct. This means being polite, avoiding incendiary language, and being wary of content. In this way, they’re able to avoid both danger and accidentally causing offense themselves.
In line with this, it’s also helpful to let the whole family know about cybersecurity measures. According to Get Cyber Safe’s national public awareness campaign, knowing what not to share online and understanding the difference between misinformation (spreading false information, regardless of intent to mislead) and disinformation (spreading misleading facts or biased information deliberately) is key. With this knowledge, your child will be better able to recognize predators and unhealthy content.
Second, check what your kids are doing online. This shouldn’t be confused with snooping, but rather is just to check that nothing insidious or harmful has reached them. By checking in on your kids’ online activity, you can also help them navigate any confusing content they may see. With your guidance, they’ll be better able to understand what they’re seeing, and even what they’re feeling, given the changes they’re experiencing.
For better or for worse, it’s impossible to avoid social media. Consequently, instead of just cutting your children off from it completely, it’s better to prepare them for its reality instead. By empowering youth with practical tips for social media and their mental health, they’re better equipped to healthily engage in the digital age.
Gertie Millette has been working as a freelance writer for most of her professional career. As a writer, she has covered topics like mental health, alternative wellness, and early childhood development. When she's not writing for other publications, she's working on the draft for her own book.