Understanding How Social Media Affects Our Children

In this new age of social media, it’s time to better understand how its excessive use can cause immediate and long-term difficulties for our children. These can range from anxiety and depression to poorly developed social skills and low self-esteem.

Face-to-face beats Facetime
Surveys show extensive use of social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat have paradoxically increased feelings of loneliness. Prior to social media, kids socialized in person, whether bicycling to each other’s houses or meeting at the mall or the beach. Kids spending too much time online fail to develop the art of reading non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expression. This can make it more difficult to communicate in person.

The cyberbully
Another unwanted consequence of social media is cyberbullying. During adolescence, peer acceptance is vital. Youngsters care deeply about presenting a positive image to their friends and may spend hours perfecting their online image. They continually compare themselves to others. Bullies, who often suffer from low self-esteem, feel a little better about themselves when they put others down. Unfortunately, in this age of social media, there are more avenues for kids to verbally abuse each other. The schoolyard bully has transformed into the cyberbully. Instead of teasing a classmate in person, they can now do it online, while the world, or at least most of their friends, watch and even participate. Instead of a single fight, there’s an ongoing battle, shared by dozens of so-called “friends.”

The unfriendly ghost
The other side of bullying is ignoring a friend. Suddenly, and without warning, kids find themselves snubbed online by former allies. It’s called, “ghosting,” and it feels very real. Kids simply stop responding to someone’s texts or remove themselves entirely from that person’s social media without explanation. It’s hard enough as an adult to deal with this. As teens trying to navigate their way through their first budding romances, it can be brutal. It’s too easy to end friendships and relationships this way, and it’s cowardly as well.

The world is watching
Social media is relentless. Kids continually share what they’re watching, listening to, reading, and liking. While this

may make them great targets for advertising, it can become exhausting. God forbid they miss a text message or don’t respond immediately. It’s like engaging in a conversation that never ends. These kids need time off to regroup Otherwise, they can become emotionally drained.

Trouble in Cyber City
If your children are searching the web and spending too much time on Facebook and Instagram, they’re being exposed to a lot of questionable behavior. Reading about a friend’s latest drunken exploits and sharing half-naked “selfies” can cause them to grow up way too fast. Parents will always be concerned about their kids’ exploits; now there’s a whole new world of cyberspace to worry about as well.

How parents can help
Kids learn by example. This is why watching hours of mind-numbing videos and participating in too much social media can hurt their receptive young minds. Parents concerned about their children’s excessive use of social media can help by curbing their own. Make social interactions with your kids more sociable. Give them better behavior to mirror by granting them your full attention and not checking your phone for emails or talking to friends when driving them to school. Limiting plugged-in time will help make you and your kids feel more connected.

Ironically, while we are more virtually linked then ever before, we‘ve never felt more alone. Find ways to help your kids socialize more with others. Find a playgroup for younger children. Develop your teen’s talents through afterschool sports or clubs focusing on such enriching subjects as drama, music, math, the environment, science, and art. This will not only help them develop hidden talents but it will keep them away from social media and involved in real-life interactions with other like-minded kids.

Some tips in the age of technology
In Southern California, we are blessed with plenty of good weather. Encourage kids to hike, bike, swim, and surf more. Better yet, join them for some healthy, invigorating family time in the great outdoors.

Create device-free periods. Family meals can become happier with phone-free discussions. Limit smartphones to older kids. When you and your children are together at home, put everyone’s phones away, including yours.

Help your kids stay safe online. Remind them to think twice before sending a text or writing a comment. Tell them not to share anything on social media that they wouldn’t want their teachers or future employers to see. Discuss how to use privacy settings and passwords. Teach them to be mindful and never write something online that they wouldn’t say in person. Warn them to keep their login details private and fully log out after using public computers. Remind them to never text or “friend” strangers.

Social media is clearly here to stay. While it can be fun for your kids, help them understand why overindulging can be hazardous to their emotional health