More than half of the world’s population–4.55 billion people–currently uses social media.[1] Of children in the U.S., 84% aged 13-18 and 38% aged 8-12 use social media.[2] We spend an average of 2 hours and 27 minutes each day on social media.[1] 

Whether we need it or not, it’s safe to say that social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

In our recent webinar, “Addressing the effects of social media on kids,” we learned that 90% of the participants believe the overall impact of social media on their kids is negative. While many parents are concerned about their children’s use of social media and how it’s affecting their mental health, there are things we can do to protect them.

In this post, we will cover behaviors to watch for in a child who may be struggling due to effects from social media, as well as tips and resources to help in moderating their social media use.

Signs that social media may be negatively impacting a child​

In our webinar during Mental Health Month, 94% of participants expressed worry that social media is impacting their child. If you find yourself in a similar situation, trust your gut and watch for any of the following, which could be signs of an unhealthy relationship with social media.

  1. Isolation–Do you find that your child is spending a lot of time alone and on their phone, computer or other device? Are they avoiding in-person time with friends and family?
  2. Poor mood after exposure–Does your child seem happy or unhappy after they’ve been on social media? Try to get a sense of their mood during or just after social media use.
  3. Irritability or angry outbursts–Does their anger seem misplaced or are they exhibiting these behaviors for seemingly no reason?
  4. Doesn’t want to go to school–Does your child seem to dread going to school each day, or are they actively trying to get out of it? Talk to your child to get an understanding of why they may be avoiding school.
  5. Falling grades–Are you noticing bad test scores or falling report card grades? Pay close attention to negative grade fluctuations which could be a reflection of more than just how much studying and learning is taking place.
  6. Decreased interest in offline activities–Are they participating less in activities they have always enjoyed or showing little interest in new activities, such as sports, arts and crafts, and other hobbies?
  7. Headaches or upset stomach–Do they seem to have more frequent complaints about not feeling good? Reoccurring physical health conditions can manifest from stress and mental health challenges.
  8. Deteriorating mental health–Are you noticing that your child just doesn’t seem like their normal happy self? Talk to your children each day about their feelings and be cognizant of any signs of depression, anxiety or mood changes.

Helping your kids have a healthy relationship with social media

If you notice any of the above signs in your children, it may be a result of negative impacts from their use of social media. Set your kids up for success with these proactive tips and resources for when there may be a problem.

  1. Talk about the risks, traps and dangers and keep an open dialogue–It’s critical to help your kids understand the realities of social media. Talk with them about adult predators who pose as friends their age, how all of the happy pictures of friends and even strangers don’t show the whole picture, and how negative comments can be deeply hurtful and follow the person who posts them forever.
  2. Set up parental controls and monitor activity–Find helpful resources with these guides:
  1. Balance screentime and face-to-face time with family and friends​–Despite the negative impacts, there is also much positivity that can come from social media. While it may be easy to get sucked in, as social media is designed to do just that, it’s important to remind your kids about all that the real world and people around them have to offer.
  2. ​​Post and seek out positive content–Explain to your kids that we can all help to keep social media a positive place by being respectful in our comments and understanding of different perspectives. Help them understand that they should seek out social media interactions that make them feel good about themselves and provide a healthy sense of connection with others.
  3. Encourage good sleep​ and exerciseWe’re not usually at our most active when on social media. We must encourage our kids to keep up their physical activity, which will benefit their physical health and mood. A healthy sleep routine will also provide benefits for kids in all aspects of their lives, and it’s important not to let social media interfere with sleep.
  4. Utilize resources on cyberbullying:
  1. Model good behavior–Just like kids, parents and caregivers are susceptible to having an unhealthy relationship with social media. Remember these tips when balancing your own on- and off-screen time because your kids are watching.
  2. Seek professional help​ when needed–If you suspect that your child is struggling, reach out to their doctor or mental health professional for support and treatment options.

For many parents, today’s digital world is very different from the one in which they grew up. Navigate this ever-changing environment with your kids and keep an open dialogue about the realities of social media beyond the glitz and glamour that appears on the surface, as well as alternative sources for contentment, inspiration and social connection.

Learn more about social media and kids

Find the recording of our webinar, “Addressing the effects of social media on kids,” where I, along with other children’s behavioral health experts, address this important issue and answer audience questions here.

Additional webinar resources:

[1] Statusbrew, “100 social media statistics you must know in 2022 [+Infographic]”

[2] Common Sense Media, “The Common Sense Census: Media use by tweens and teens, 2021”