A recent advisory by the U. S. Surgeon General says teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media face twice the risk of experiencing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
According to the report, 95% of teens ages 13-17 say they use social media, with more than a third saying they use it “almost constantly.” In addition, 40 percent of children ages 8-12 use social media, even though most platforms require users to be at least 13 to participate.
The information in the report corroborates what UnitedHealthcare providers are often seeing: an increased rate of harmful comparison, limited in-person interaction, feelings of loneliness and an uptick in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five children have a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder and only about 20 percent of those children receive care from a mental health provider.
Healthcare providers say parents cannot afford to wait to understand the full impact of social media. Critical brain development in adolescents is happening now and it’s crucial for parents to play a role in helping their children navigate social media in a safe and healthy way.
Dr. Danielle Madril, chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare, offers these tips to help you and your child become more informed about social media use, and reduce potential harm:
Having a bit of background on the latest social media apps can help parents create better limits and boundaries for their kids. Limit chat functions, especially with strangers, and restrict inappropriate content.
Set guidelines and boundaries when it comes to your family’s social media, including screen time limits, online safety, and protecting personal privacy. The Academy of Pediatrics has a template that can guide you through the process.
Initiate open and honest conversations, without judgement, with your child about their activity on social media on a regular basis. Ensure they know the signs of cyberbullying, and how permanent an online post can be.
It can be helpful to restrict electronic use at least one hour before bedtime and through the night. Encourage children to foster in-person friendships and build social skills.
Children often learn by watching your behaviors and habits, so make sure you’re limiting the time you spend on social media and be responsible with what you choose to post.
While the Surgeon General’s advisory focuses on the potential negative impacts of social media use on children and teens, it also acknowledges social media can provide some benefits. It can be helpful in creating community connection over shared interests, abilities and identities or providing space for self-expression. Encouraging children to form healthy relationships with technology is critical.
Dr. Danielle Madril is the chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare.