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Social media a top concern for parents: Tips to protect children

As schools across the nation are back in session, a new poll finds parents are increasingly concerned about the social media habits of their children.

The vast majority of parents say internet safety, social media overuse and overall screen time are the primary concerns, the “National Poll on Children’s Health” by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“Children are using digital devices and social media at younger ages, and parents may struggle with how to appropriately monitor use to prevent negative impacts on safety, self-esteem, social connections, and habits that may interfere with sleep and other areas of health,” said pediatrician Dr. Susan Woolford who is the poll’s co-author.

The poll, which had a national sample of 2,000 respondents, reveals that 50 percent of parents are concerned about mental health problems such as suicide, depression, stress, and anxiety associated with excessive screen use.

The culprits are Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.

How much is too much?

But the concern has been well documented including in a 2019 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry which showed preteens and teens who spent more than three hours per day on social media had a 60 percent higher risk of developing mental health problems. Separate research shows unhealthy scrolling is a significant source of distraction that can lead to addiction, which then adversely impacts academic performance and fuels unrealistic expectations when kids compare themselves to popular, self-declared influencers.

According to an official blog by the National Eating Disorder Association, social media platforms are linked to a fixation on appearance, pressure to be muscular, and reduced body satisfaction. Social media also sets students up for cyberbullying. Fifty-nine percent of teens in the United States say they’ve been bullied or harassed online.

What to Do

The back-to-school months are an excellent time to reinstate expectations and set limits that may have been lifted during the summer months.

“It is typical for parents to relax those rules during the summer, but once school starts, parents and children need to have a conversation about limits on social media and screen time by setting up agreed-upon rules,” Dr. Michelle Escovedo, an adolescent medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s in Los Angeles, said in a recent virtual community conversation about the back-to-school season.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends the following strategies to keep kids safe:

  1. Limit Screen Time

Limit social media by utilizing available screen time settings so kids and teens learn self-control. Lack of self-control can lead to addiction. Brain specialists have shown that acquiring likes, engaging with people, and temporarily escaping reality trigger the brain’s reward system by releasing dopamine, the same neurotransmitter released with other addictions like eating and gambling.

2019 data from the research firm Statista show that 40 percent of U.S. online users aged 18 to 22 reported feeling addicted to social media, with 5 percent of respondents describing themselves as being “completely” addicted.

  1. Ensure Kids Get Enough Sleep

Prohibit screen time that interferes with at least eight hours of sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a lack of z’s impairs a child’s neurodevelopment, increases impulsivity, and leads to aggressive behavior and thinking problems. Insufficient sleep is also associated with an increased risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

  1. Watch for Concerning Behavior

Be on the lookout for behaviors that escalate to the point where:

  • They interfere with the child’s daily routines and commitments, such as school, work, friendships, and extracurricular activities.
  • The child often chooses social media over in-person social interactions.
  • The child cannot get at least eight hours of quality sleep each night.
  • The child is prevented from engaging in regular physical activity.
  • The child uses social media even when they express a desire to stop.
  • The child experiences strong cravings to check social media.
  • The child lies or uses deceptive behavior to spend time online.

Other Back-to-School Concerns

Rounding out the list of back-to-school concerns are the following:

  • Unhealthy diet (52 percent).
  • Costs of health care/health insurance (50 percent).
  • School violence (49 percent).
  • Smoking/vaping (48 percent).

Concerns by Socioeconomic Status

Poorer households making under $50,000 per year were more likely to have concerns about depression and suicide, bullying, school violence, unsafe neighborhoods, drinking and drugs, and smoking/vaping. Other concerns in this group were teen pregnancy and sexual activity, child abuse and neglect, parental stress, discrimination, COVID-19, and pollution-related health risks. Parents of middle-income households making between $50,000 and $99,000 per year and high-income homes (over $100,000 per year) were more likely to rate overuse of devices and social media as significant problems.

Takeaways for Parents

“Since 2007, the Mott Poll has released periodic reports on parents’ level of concern about a variety of health-related issues for US children and teens,” the report authors wrote. “The top issues centered around the role of social media and the internet in children’s lives …

“These topics became more prominent during the pandemic, and this report shows that parent concerns have not faded. As shown in prior Mott Poll Reports, children are using social media at younger ages, and parents struggle with how to appropriately monitor this area and help their children avoid the negative aspects of its use.”

–Epoch Times | Used with permission. Photo: WikiCommons.

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