By Megan Lottes, LSW, Nov. 5, 2018 –

You don’t have to look very far these days to find a preteen or teen glued to their phone texting and scrolling through social media.

Like many things, social media has advantages and disadvantages. It breaks down geographical barriers, allows us to stay connected to family and friends all over the globe, and facilitates communication.

Unfortunately, however, it has also taken a toll on today’s youth.

For most teens and preteens, it is difficult to remember living in a world without technology.  They cannot imagine a world without the internet, which allows them to use apps and social media.

According to the website psycom.net, the average age that kids get their first cellphone is 10 years old, with nearly 40 percent of kids having a social media account by age eleven.

Today’s kids feel the need to constantly share everything they experience.  For them, responses to their online posts, such as “likes” and comments, are taken very seriously.

As they scroll through various social media apps, they see unrealistic standards of beauty and materialistic possessions. They start to compare their lives to others. Because of what is seen on social media, preteens and teens may alter their appearance, engage in negative behaviors, and accept risky social media challenges to gain attention in the form of “likes,” comments, and number of followers.

Research reported on childmind.org, as well as many other sources, shows that heavy social media use has been linked to increased depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem among kids. It prevents the development of some social skills and direct communication skills.

Preteens and teens spend more time connecting on social media instead of building social skills and having conversations in person; therefore, they are not learning how to read body language, facial expressions, or vocal infections.

Social media may also become a major distraction and lead to lack of sleep and poor academic performance. If technology use is unmonitored, kids may stay up late without their parents realizing they are not asleep. Ultimately, it is difficult for kids to unplug from technology at all times of the day.

So what can parents or caregivers do to help?

  1. Conduct some research. Whether it is by talking to teachers, talking to other parents or doing your own research, find out what the most popular apps are and how they are used.
  2. Establish technology-free zones in your home, such as the dinner table, and technology-free times such as before bed. Collect phones, tablets, and computers before bedtime.
  3. Don’t always trust the pictures kids post. Just because your child posts a lot of smiling “selfies” might not mean that your child is truly happy. Social media tends to be a “highlight reel,” displaying mostly the positive aspects of kids’ lives. Always check in with them to see how they are really doing.
  4. Last but not least, encourage your kids to talk to you and let them know it’s safe to talk to you. Let them know you love them and how proud you are of them – unfiltered and unedited.