Social Media – How Does It Impact Young People and What Can Parents Do?

As of January 2020, there were 3.8 billion social media users worldwide. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok aren’t going anywhere. These days, if you’re raising children, helping them navigate these apps and stay safe online is an inevitable part of your job. So, how does social media impact young people and what can parents do to help?

It’s Not All Bad…

Social media allows young people to connect with others online and create friendships that were not previously possible. It helps them keep in touch with close friends and create stronger relationships. It also exposes them to other cultures, interests and ideas, so it’s definitely not all bad.

The Dark Side of Social Media

Studies have shown social media use can lead to depression, low self-esteem, body image issues, anxiety, social isolation, and more. It can even perpetuate eating disorders and self-harm behaviours.

Companies like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are focussed on keeping people online for as long as possible. For a young person who’s grown up with this ‘conditioning’ it can be a lot harder to step away and take a break. Using their phone and social media becomes part of their daily routine and they may feel uncomfortable when they don’t have access to these things.

Whether they realise it or not, many young people are learning to equate their self-worth with the number of likes and follows they can rack up on platforms like Instagram. If they post something and it gets significantly less likes than usual, this can impact how they feel about themselves or their appearance.

At the same time, young people may find it difficult to identify what is real and what is fake on social media. In many cases, they’re comparing themselves to a standard that isn’t achievable without Photoshop.

Cyber bullying is another huge issue. Harassment of young people happens regularly on social media. If a child was being bullied or having a hard time at school, they used to be able to escape these things at the end of the day. Now, these issues follow them home and become difficult to avoid.

What Can Parents Do?

Many social media companies do not have the best interests of their users at heart. It’s up to parents to monitor social media use and help their children create healthy habits. One of the most important things you can do is encourage them to share any issues or concerns they may have.

Beyond this, it’s a good idea to set boundaries that feel right for you as a family. You may want to ban phones at the dinner table or discourage your children from checking their messages last thing at night. iPhones have app tracking functionalities in the software by default that allow you to maintain and check screen time on certain applications. Some Android phones have similar capabilities.

Remember, social media is designed to distract and hold our attention for as long as possible. If a young person seems addicted to their phone, it probably isn’t their fault! Switching off notifications can help them become more intentional about their screen time. Disabling auto-play on platforms like YouTube can also prevent them from getting stuck down a ‘rabbit hole’ and mindlessly watching videos for hours and hours.

As well as protecting their mental health, it’s vital we educate young people about staying safe online. Net Aware from the NSPCC and O2, InternetMatters.org and ThinkUKnow.co.uk are full of resources and practical advice for parents. If you’re worried about social media use and self-harm, read our post about how to support your child.

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