Social Media and Kids: Is it a Good Mix?

The ubiquity of social media is no secret. Its reach is far and wide, which has caused some adults to examine the internet tool’s role in escalating rates in children.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have revolutionized the way humans communicate, making everything we say fast and furious in speed (and, at times, meaning). But it may also be taking a toll on our youth’s sanity. Studies suggest anxiety among youth is on the rise.

A study published last April, in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, showed a 20 percent increase in rates of anxiety in kids ages 6 to 17 between 2007 and 2012.

“Self-esteem, identity with peers and fitting in have been the struggles of teens since the beginning of time,” said Patricia Student, an APRN at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, whose specialty focuses on mental health of children and teens.

“What’s different is the amount of information kids are getting now,” she said. “They’re getting feedback about themselves from other peers in real time. It is rapid and overwhelming.”

Now, it’s all too common for things to get taken out of context, Student explained. Another common scenario teens face is the problem of having loose social media connections who might comment and offer opinions.

“When Facebook was really popular, kids would have connections with so many people — friends of friends of friends,” Student said. “So, they are not real friends but kids are still getting input from these people.”

Most social media sites express in their terms and conditions that children need to be at least 13 to open an account, though this hasn’t been enforced, according to the 2017 Netflix documentary by Asri Bendacha, called Follow Me.

So, many kids spend their childhood worrying about likes and clamoring for followers.

Getting likes or followers on social media releases dopamine, the same “reward” neurochemical released following activities like achieving a goal or exercise.

In the midst of this social media hub-bub, teens have taken to creating fake Instagram accounts, called “finstas.” With a finsta, you can curate a less controversial account for adult figures to see. Or you can use a finsta to drum up likes on photos you post.

Teens often feel invested in their social media accounts and have a hard time turning it off, which is part of the problem.

There’s a push among parents to wait until 8th grade before giving your child a smart phone. The goal of the pledge is to empower parents by number.

“These devices are quickly changing childhood for children,” the pledge says. “Playing outdoors, spending time with friends, reading books and hanging out with family is happening a lot less to make room for hours of snap chatting, instagramming, and catching up on YouTube.”

On a more positive note, Student said because online bullying gets an eye from the news media, parents and kids are getting smarter about social media.

“There’s a lot of education in school and by parents on social media,” Student said. “There’s more rules and regulation in the house and people are aware of the problems it can cause.”

For more information on how to help navigate your child’s social media use, speak with your Lahey Health provider.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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