By Shavonda Bean
There’s no escaping the age of technology, the ease it offers our lives and the access it provides to the world around us. With advancements in technology, we now have new approaches to health care and treatment, new modalities for learning and skill development, and tech has drastically changed the economic capacity of many industries. However, as with most good things, there is another side to the story. Many parents express alarm at how social media and technology can influence their children, lead to disciplinary issues, loss of sleep, changes in mood, can influence peer relationships and can increase irritability if access is limited. In my practical experience, I observe how social media can influence behaviors, perceptions and reputations. We know this is true for adults, and it also applies to tweens and teens. As girls are developing a sense of self, they are looking to their peers for insight and approval, and their virtual persona matters. I believe this ultimately makes the job of parenting much more complex.
As the number of people accessing technology and the internet steadily increases, we must be aware of mental health risks. Researchers are investigating increased symptoms of depression and anxiety among those who spend a lot of time on their devices, whether they are gaming, watching television, listening to music or accessing social media.
A study published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal by psychologist Jean Twenge at San Diego State University found that girls between 13 and 18 reported an increase in symptoms of depression that appear to correlate with smartphone usage, and there might also be an associated increased risk of suicide and major depression when daily use extends beyond four hours. In general, this has affected girls, who are more likely to report depression and spend much more time on social media than their male peers, who spend more time using technology for gaming. Therefore, males are at a higher risk for addictive gaming behaviors that can be associated with increased irritability when use is limited, loss of interest in other activities and problems in relationships. We should pay close attention to any significant emotional or behavioral changes in our children that could be associated with technology usage. Where do we start??
- Talk to your children about the limits and expectations of internet and technology usage BEFORE you give them access. Take precautions as you would with any other environment you expose your child to. Be honest and offer explanations.
- Be prepared to talk about pornography and internet safety. If you’re uncomfortable talking about safety, you aren’t ready to give your child full access to the internet. Consider how you might limit and monitor usage in the meantime.
- Create a technology plan for the FAMILY to follow, and parents should hold themselves accountable, as well. Parents set the example!
- Balance social media time with face-to-face time with peers and family. Social skill development and healthy relationships are important to overall mental health and wellness. Less social media time increases happiness and decreases loneliness.
- Children have many ways to bypass internet and social media limits and hide their usage. Stay aware and up to date with how to monitor usage. Building trusting relationships is important, but don’t be afraid to check their devices.
- Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org) is a great resource for guides, usage plans and general information about parenting children in the media age. Check it out!
- Seek a professional therapist or counselor if you are concerned about how social media is affecting your child. Don’t wait.
Shavonda Bean is a licensed psychological associate and owner of Essential Assessment & Behavioral Health. Visit www.EssentialHealthNC.com for more information