Parenting & Children's Health

Social Media - a Double Edged Sword

Written by
Dr. Suresh Kumar G D
and medically reviewed by Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published on Sep 07, 2019 and last reviewed on Oct 17, 2019   -  3 min read

Abstract

Abstract

This article describes the pros and cons of social media use in children and what parents can do in this situation.

Social Media - a Double Edged Sword

What Parents Need to Know?

Children and young people born after the 1990s are growing up with social media as an integral part of their lives. People born just a generation ago did not have to face this onslaught from social media. I regularly meet parents in my clinical practice who are getting frustrated by the undue influence of social media on their children. Many parents are bewildered by this development and feel that their parenting role and authority is somehow undermined. I frequently hear parents saying that their children spend more time on social media than interacting with family!

Is Social Media Good or Bad?

We have to accept that social media sites have become an inseparable part of our lives in the last decade or two. Like handling any delicate situation, we have a look at the advantages and disadvantages regarding the use of social media. Putting a blanket ban on social media is neither feasible nor advisable. The key is to help the young people to use it judiciously, harness the positive benefits, and prevent potentially adverse outcomes.

Pros of Social Media:

  • It helps people stay connected.
  • Networking with like-minded people, collaborate and share information.
  • Develop knowledge and provides exposure to various topics which were unimaginable 10 to 20 years ago.
  • Young people get access to the latest developments and updates in their chosen fields. Previously, the newest knowledge was predominantly acquired through books and journals in the libraries. In recent years, relevant social media feeds have helped to disseminate the latest findings in different fields.
  • Creates awareness about various social problems and helps young people to empower themselves and participate in multiple campaigns. It can be a powerful tool for bringing in positive changes
  • Young adults can learn more about educational and career opportunities that may be relevant to their aspirations. These media platforms are valuable communication tools which have expanded their reach worldwide.
  • Social media can provide entertainment and relaxation when used judiciously.

Cons of Social Media

  • Indiscriminate use of social media leads to increased exposure to screen time and poor sleep, which can have an adverse impact on children’s normal development. Further, time spent on social media can limit the time available for educational activities. There has been a recent study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health by Professor Russell Viner et al, UK where the researchers found that social media may harm mental health in teenagers, especially girls due to increased exposure to cyberbullying, decreased sleep and physical activities. Frequent social media use is said to be associated with greater psychological distress among users, particularly girls.
  • Exchange of inappropriate and explicit messages, images by vulnerable teenagers. Things like sexting are becoming a menace in some schools, particularly in Western countries
  • Risk of cyberstalking, online grooming especially by older adults posing as young people.
  • Generally, children and young people are more adept in using these platforms than their parents which has skewed the traditional power balance away from parents. In many families, parents are less tech-savvy and depend on children to navigate social media sites; so they may find it challenging to enforce parental rules and boundaries in limiting social media use.

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What Can Parents Do?

  • Promote safe use of social media. Most of these social media platforms have minimum age restrictions, which is helpful to prevent under age children from accessing these platforms before they are developmentally ready to handle the social media accounts. Nearly all of these services require users to be at least 13 years old, and some can sign up with parents’ permission. We do hear stories about social media being used by many younger children despite age limits. So adequate monitoring and supervision of children online activity is warranted.
  • Parents have to invest time to keep themselves updated about social media so that they are in a position to guide their children.
  • Limit number of screens or gadgets available at home.
  • Place computers or laptops in common areas to minimize access
  • Use filters to guard against inappropriate content.
  • Parents can stay connected as ‘friends’ to keep an eye on their activities, but should not be intrusive.
  • Help young people to develop a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Agree on a plan to limit the screen time ( for example, 30 minutes during school days, you can be more flexible and accommodative during weekends and holidays).
  • Promote outdoor activities like walking, running, swimming, playing team sports, etc.
  • Support young people to maintain good sleep routine.

If parents are able to help their children to use social media judiciously and prevent addictive behavior, it will provide a huge boost to lead their lives productively.

Last reviewed at:
17 Oct 2019  -  3 min read

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