This was the finding of the National Poll on Children's Health conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, affiliated with the University of Michigan Medical School. Two-thirds of parents cited three main concerns – overall screen time, social media overuse and internet safety.
Aside from this, mental health issues were also listed as a concern by parents participating in the poll. Issues surrounding technology and emotional health dominated 2023's Top 10 list of parent concerns. Interestingly, the two surpassed childhood obesity – which had been the No. 1 children's health issue a decade ago.
Despite concerns about mental health, social media and screen time becoming the foremost concerns parents have, problems directly impacting physical health like unhealthy eating and obesity remain important children's health issues, said poll co-director and pediatrician Dr. Susan Woolford.
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, Woolford said.
Child psychologist Dr. Kate Eshleman, discussed the potential dangers of kids using social media. She also outlined ways for parents who let their children use social media to address the issue. These include talking to children about how to stay safe while online, how not to overuse social media and how not to take everything they see on the internet seriously.
While experts are just beginning to understand social media’s impact on children, one study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior showed that children younger than 11 years old who use Instagram and Snapchat are more likely to have problematic digital behaviors. These include having online-only friends, visiting sites parents would disapprove of and having a higher chance of participating in online harassment.
That same study says limiting how much time a child spends on social media may reduce some of the negative effects of using social media at such an early age.
Another study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood talked about how children who use TikTok are developing tics and having tic-like attacks. They’re experiencing a movement disorder brought on by stress and anxiety – presumably made worse by the pandemic lockdowns and teens’ increased social media consumption.
In addition to problematic digital behaviors, there may be changes in children’s daily behavior at home such as increased irritability, increased anxiety and lack of self-esteem.
If kids are being asked to get off social media and do their homework, then parents might see increased periods of irritability or frustration directed towards parents because they’re being asked to do something they don’t want to do and stop doing something they enjoy, said Eshleman.
As a parent, it can be hard knowing what your child is doing online. There are dangers to be aware of, including:
According to Eshleman, children don't have the cognitive and executive functioning to think through harmful situations and why those might be a bad idea – placing themselves in harm's way. Here are a few tips for parents on how to navigate the social media world together with their children:
Determine if your child is ready. Even if a child is old enough to join a social media platform, they might not be ready for it. If unsure of their maturity level and how they interact with others, like coaches and friends, suggest doing a test period on social media. Parents should identify expectations, communicate those to their kids and identify the consequences of not following them.
Talk to children about social media. From the beginning, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your children about what social media is and what it can be used for. Ask why they’re interested in having an account on a particular platform and what they want to use it for. But as they start venturing into the world of social media, keep talking. This comes in handy especially when a popular TikTok challenge or a newsworthy story is trending.
Limit screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to two hours a day for children. Eshleman says that’s a good guideline but wants parents to also focus on the big picture — ensuring kids get enough physical activity and face-to-face interactions. It’s not always just the screen time that’s the problem, but what the screen time is in place of. To prevent any arguments, screen time apps that automatically set limits on device use can be downloaded.
Monitor their usage. Parents should check on the online content their children are consuming – whether if it's by scrolling through their tablet or phone or using a social media monitoring tool. Scrutinize the apps on their devices, learn what they are about and question what the apps are for, if needed.
Model good behavior. While this is easier said than done, parents practicing safe and healthy social media behaviors in front of their children can go a long way. It’s much harder for kids to understand the potential dangers or risks of social media when parents engage in the same behaviors themselves.
Regulating children's use of social media is uncharted territory for many parents, and an extra chore for those already burdened by work, child-rearing and household chores. But Eshleman notes that it's OK to ask for help on the matter.
Visit Glitch.news for more stories about children's social media use.
Watch this video about the fear of being disliked on social media, which can cause anxiety and other issues in school children.
This video is from the QC Hooks channel on Brighteon.com.