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Is Social Media Really That Bad for My Child?

Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok. These are just three of the many social media platforms used by millions every day. And they are especially popular among kids and teens. We hear a lot about the risks of social media for the youth. But is it really that bad? Here’s the answer.

Stefanie Parth
11/17/2022 • 6 min
closeup of people looking at their phones, many social media reactions

Is your child on social media? Yeah, you’re not alone. More and more teens (ages 13 to 18) are spending time on social media. Many of them own their own devices that allow them to go online - from anywhere, at any time. A 2021 survey by Common Sense Media found that 84% of teens are using social media. 62% of those are online every day!

According to the survey, tweens (ages 8 to 12) are also exploring social media. This is a bit alarming. Why? Because many platforms don’t officially allow kids to create a profile until they’re 13 years old. Yet, about 38% of tweens are active on social media (18% of them daily), looking at content that may not be age-appropriate for them.

You're probably wondering at what point this might become a problem. The good news is that social media doesn't have to be all bad, it also has some advantages. Let's take a look at them.

The benefits of social media

Have you ever wondered why social media is so popular with tweens and teens? Well, for one, it’s become normal for our kids to talk to their “offline” friends about their daily lives and to make online friends with people who share the same interests as them. While tweens are mainly interested in watching funny videos and other entertainment, social media plays an important role for teens to figure out who they are as a person.

Think of it this way: Social media allows teens to share certain aspects of their personality with their friends and get feedback from them. This helps them explore and shape their identity and develop their self-esteem. For example, a teenager takes a selfie with a new piece of clothing and shares it online. If it gets a lot of likes, they probably feel more confident wearing it, thinking their friends like their style.

Girl takes a selfie on her cell phone

Sharing selfies can increase a teen’s self-esteem.

Social media has also been shown to reduce loneliness. And it gives shy kids an opportunity to come out of their shells because of the anonymity social media provides. And of course, social media gives kids a platform to express their creativity, from photography and writing to music and art.

Now, that doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? Well, unfortunately, it is not all sunshine and glitter on social media. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Potential risks of social media for youth

While exploring their identities is a good thing, you probably also know that teens like to test their limits and may go out of their way to impress others. And social media gives them the perfect stage to do this. So just to look cool, they might be tempted to publicly post inappropriate images, videos or texts on social media - without thinking about the consequences. Oversharing can easily backfire on social media, and it’s very difficult to “clean up the mess” and delete content.

Another risk is cyberbullying. A cyberbully is someone who harasses a person online. How? They may spread rumors, send hurtful messages, or share inappropriate images or videos of their victim. Unlike traditional bullying, a cyberbully can remain anonymous and doesn’t necessarily see the pain they inflict. On top of that, the victim may feel that they can’t escape the situation because wherever they go, their cell phone - and their bully - is with them.

Social media can be a source of support for teens who are struggling, feeling depressed or anxious. They can learn from others how they overcame their distress. Unfortunately, it can also make matters worse. Teens can be exposed to stories, discussion groups, and forums about self-harm and suicide - sometimes even without actively looking for them.

Girl sitting on a desk in a hallway, looking sad

Social media does come with risks for kids and teens

Spending too much time on Social Media can negatively impact your child’s attention span. This is especially the case with TikTok, as you can read here. Plus, as a whistleblower who worked at Meta revealed, the company knows that young girls are affected by the portrayal of beauty standards, which can lead to body image issues.

After reading about the risks, you might be tempted to take your child's phone away (which would probably make matters worse #meltdown). But! There's more good news - there are some things you can do to protect your child and help them use social media responsibly.

What can you as a parent do?

Do your homework
Think about it like this: How are you supposed to help if you don’t know what to look out for? So first, educate yourself about social media and its potential risks. It’s a great first step that you read this article - and you can find many more helpful tips in our guide. There are also many podcasts and websites on the topic.

Set a good example
Even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, your child looks up to you and copies your behavior. So if you get lost on social media and spend hours watching TikTok videos, your child will think that’s normal. Practice what you preach.

Set screen time limits
Make sure your child doesn’t spend too much time on social media. For example, you can use Ohana to limit general phone use before bedtime, as the blue light emitted by screens overstimulates the brain (meaning, you’ll have a grumpy, tired kid in the morning).

Show interest
Take an active role and talk to your child about what they are doing on social media. How many platforms are they signed up for? What kind of content are they interested in? Ask them if they can show you some of the content they enjoy watching - without judgment.

Talk openly
There’s no reason to spy on your child, but it’s important to set limits. Discuss appropriate and inappropriate social media use with them - and make the consequences clear.

Be understanding
Ideally, your child knows that they can always turn to you if something bad happens to them online. Listen to them, take them seriously and show them that you care.

Get help
If your child is depressed and you feel overwhelmed by the situation, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. A clinician or therapist can help both you and your child.

Source:
Reid, D. & Weigle, P. (2014). Social Media Use among Adolescents: Benefits and Risks.

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