Getting a Grip on Social Media

You’ve probably seen headlines linking social media to depression, loneliness and other emotional problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a clinical report urging pediatricians to counsel families about something they called “Facebook depression.” Despite the headlines, much of the early research about how social media impacts mental health has been contradictory.

Recent research indicates that what really matters is how people use social media. In general, people are happiest when they feel they can exert some control over what happens to them. People who stay focused on what they are able to do seem to fare better than those who become preoccupied with what others are doing. Understanding this principle can help parents make social media a more positive experience for everyone in the family, including the grown-ups.

Here are some guidelines to consider:

Lurk less. Several studies have concluded that people who simply scroll through information provided by others are more vulnerable to negative feelings including envy and loneliness. Catching up with friends may generate positive feelings, but avoid lingering too long over other people’s photos and status updates.

Make posts matter—to you. Instead of using posts to provoke a response from others (something that is out of your hands), shift the emphasis and use social media to chronicle experiences and ideas that you want to remember.

Don’t believe everything you read. Social media amplifies the very common adolescent anxiety that everyone else is having more fun. Of course, by now, everyone has gotten the same message:  What you post online never really goes away. Because most people want to be remembered for the good things that happened in
their lives, that’s what goes on display.

Disconnect when necessary. Sometimes, in real life, people may have no choice about spending time with others who are unpleasant. Online, there’s more control and you’ll feel better if you use it. Unfriend people whoare hostile or mean. Consider hidingposts from people who can’t help bragging about vacations, clothes, grades and good looks. Concentrate on input from people who make you think—or laugh.

Jamie Lober talked to University of Michigan pediatrician, Dr. April Inniss, about the effects of social media on children:

“While 19 percent of pre-teens, ages 9 to 12, had their own social networking profiles, 80 percent of parents indicated that they did not have time to monitor their child’s online activity.  Social media has a connection to cyber-bullying and is an access point where people can remain anonymous and have access to children outside of the school grounds.  Parents can disable pop-ups, monitor social networking sites, check the history of websites their child has visited, use child-safe software, limit interactions to peers the child already knows and make sure he does not put personal information, like where he lives or his date of birth, online.  It is a great opportunity to network with peers and share thoughts about homework assignments and things going on at school and to socialize which is healthy provided that it is done under the watchful eye of a parent.”

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs.  She has been writing Growing Up Online for ten years and is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict. 

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