Helping your adolescent navigate the world of social media
A new study is shining a light on the effects of social media usage on teens. The American Psychological Association study found an overall improvement in body image and self-esteem after social media usage was reduced.
Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a pediatric psychologist with Advocate Children’s Hospital, says one of the issues with social media is that it is unregulated. This means that when a teen sees a popular video promoting something like a fad diet, it can appear to come from a credible source even if that is not the case, making it hard to know the difference.
“Part of their developmental task at this phase of life is to figure out who they are, how they relate to other people, and how they understand themselves in relation to other people. On top of that, their bodies are also changing. Much of that brings out a lot of insecurity and self-doubt,” explains Dr. Roberts. “I think there can be positives to social media and people can find inspiration and motivation, but this can easily cross the line into very unhealthy territory. Teens may hold themselves up to unrealistic — and in many cases unreal — ideals, and this can contribute to a negative self-image and a sense of never feeling good enough.”
The study does not necessarily suggest teens avoid social media altogether, but to use it cautiously. Social media is here to stay, so it is nearly inevitable that adolescents will eventually dive into that world. There are positives to social media, too. The pandemic certainly showed us this by helping to bring people together and connecting people who felt isolated. Dr. Roberts says to think of it the way you would dark chocolate. It isn’t completely unhealthy for you and it even has some benefits, you just don’t want to overindulge.
If you have a child under age 12, Dr. Roberts recommends holding off on allowing them to use social media until you can cultivate awareness and healthy habits with them. Talk about self-monitoring, what’s safe versus what’s not. That way, there are boundaries in place. Even if you have a teen already deep in the world of social media, it is not too late to start those conversations.
“I know some teens don’t want to just sit down and talk with their parents, but I encourage parents to start the conversation and make it collaborative,” she advises. “Ask what sites they are using. Ask how they feel before, during and after using them. Ask what they think is good or not good about it. These conversations can help our children and teens become intelligent consumers.”
Dr. Roberts also advises parents to be aware of how much time they spend scrolling through their own social media accounts.
“Modeling behavior is important,” she says. “It’s okay for a parent to take the approach of recognizing that they, too, might use social media too much. Create a family goal to set healthy boundaries or guidelines around social media usage. Your child will see that the adults in the house are modeling the same behavior, and it eventually becomes a household norm.”
If social media usage is causing a significant negative impact on your child and you think they may benefit from professional mental health services, help is available. Click here if you live in Illinois and click here if you live in Wisconsin.