For many people, social media has become a go-to way to get news, learn about the world and share our personal lives.
For teens, however, social media can become an emotional minefield. While many teens find it helps them stay connected with each other, express views and receive support and advice, social media has also been shown to contribute to depression and negative self-image.
“There’s no down time,” says Dr. Jill Aiken, a pediatrician at Tidelands Health Pediatrics in Myrtle Beach. “For many kids, social media is an integral part of their life – for better or worse.”
How parents can help
Parents, who may not be familiar with the social media platforms teens are using, may find themselves at a loss over how to help or support their children.
Whether related to social media or not, the first step is to maintain open and honest lines of communication with your children, which can help you identify any concerns, Dr. Aiken says.
“There is no substitute for regularly talking with your children and asking them how they’re feeling,” Dr. Aiken says. “Even if they’re not comfortable getting into details or discussing a topic with you at a particular time, your interest signals to them that you’re there to help and support them through all stages of life.”
Be sure to remind your teens that people share their best sides and most exciting adventures on social media. Reinforce that it’s not realistic to compare themselves to the idealized images they see on their social media feeds, Dr. Aiken says.
Studies have shown that social media channels such as Instagram and Facebook can have particularly detrimental effects on the self-confidence and body image of teens and pre-teens. Most studies and reporting on the subject have focused on the impact on girls, but other studies show that boys can also develop body images from social media as well.
“Of course, we want to encourage our kids to develop healthy lifestyles by eating right and exercising,” Dr. Aiken says. “But it’s important they understand the goal is health, not trying to achieve society’s ideals for appearance.”
That influencer your teen admires may have spent all day and taken dozens of shots to get one Instagram post, which is then digitally altered to remove acne or other flaws — something most people simply don’t have the time, money or interest to do.
At the same time, young people need to be reminded that their own posts are part of the public domain and can take on a life of their own – whether intended or not.
The pitfalls of seeking validation
It’s also important kids don’t get too wrapped up in seeking validation from the “likes” they get on social media posts.
“The whole platform and context – it’s geared to get likes so you get reinforcement,” Dr. Aiken says. “It’s easy to find yourself building up yourself based on what other people think of you or what you are posting.”
Although positive responses can increase a teen’s self-esteem, a lack of response, negative comments or trolling can likewise be detrimental to a young person’s mental health, she says.
And it’s not only social media. Text messages can also become an avenue for bullying and other problems, she says.
The distance and anonymity of social media and texting open the door for people to say things that they would never say in person, Dr. Aiken says.
The importance of boundaries
As with other technology, such as video games, Aiken recommends setting boundaries on social media use. To create space for family time, parents can establish a “no phones” policy at the dinner table or set aside one day per week when everyone puts their technology aside, she says.
Parents may also want to consider restricting phone use at bedtime – both to help guard against cyberbullying and other negative behaviors and to help ensure their teens get a good night’s sleep.
It’s also worth considering joining your teen’s social media communities to monitor and communicate with them on their terms, Dr. Aiken says.
“It’s an opportunity, if we use it, to have really meaningful discourse with our kids about themselves and their aspirations,” Dr. Aiken says.
Dr. Jill Aiken
Pediatrician, Tidelands Health Pediatrics
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Dr. Jill Aiken, a board-certified pediatrician, practices at Tidelands Health Pediatrics in Myrtle Beach.Learn More
Medical University of South Carolina
Medical University of South Carolina, Pediatrics
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Dr. Jill Aiken
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Dr. Jill Aiken, a board-certified pediatrician, practices at Tidelands Health Pediatrics in Myrtle Beach.