It would be hard to miss how news outlets and ‘healthy parenting’ communities are creating a flood of information right now, unilaterally declaring “social media is evil and will ruin your kid’s life!”.
Well, those just aren’t the facts.
It would be convenient to view social media through this black-and-white lens but the truth isn’t so simple.
Think about it. If social media was universally harmful, every kid would suffer from using it. So why do many say social media helped them feel connected with friends and family while quarantined in the COVID-19 pandemic?
Let’s ask a better question.
Why do some kids use social media and seem to have no issues with their mental health, while others experience extreme harm from it?
It’s popular to think that managing screen time is the best way to protect kids from developing mental illnesses because of social media. However, emerging research shows that this answer is too simple.
In 2020, researchers published a study called Adolescents’ Intense and Problematic Social Media Use and Their Well-Being in 29 Countries, which focused on the behavior of more than 150,000 kids to better understand what factors predict how social media might affect a kid’s mental health.
What did the research discover?
The greatest risk factors were what kids were doing, who they were doing it with, and how their environment treated social media usage.
They found that kids were impacted by the intent, the audience, and the home environment in which they used social media. In other words, the current hyper-focus on screen time as the solution missed these three significant factors.
Let’s break down their two major findings!
1) The study made an important distinction between intense usage and problematic usage.
- Intense social media usage meant that a test subject used social media for multiple hours throughout the day.
- Problematic usage meant the subject spent a lot of time online AND reported a social media addiction, lower life satisfaction, and a negative outlook on life.
Let us state that again!
Both intense users and problematic users spent lots of time on social media every day but the study found they weren’t equally affected.
2) The research looked at the social media trends for the 29 countries included in the study.
- Social media usage varied widely across countries. In some countries, using social media to contact friends and family, meet people, or have fun was very common while in others, social media usage was rare.
- In countries where intense social media use was common, kids reported increased feelings of family connection, life satisfaction, and friend support.
- In countries where intense social media use was uncommon, kids reported negative effects of social media, blaming it for lower life satisfaction, decreased feelings of family support, and more issues with their emotional well being.
To sum it up, kids that felt addicted to or had negative experiences with social media universally reported a lower quality of life. This was the same for kids who used it regularly in an environment where social media use was uncommon, even if they didn’t have negative interactions like cyberbullying.
On the other hand, kids with high levels of social media use in homes where it was common felt satisfied, social, and connected to their families. For these kids, blocking access or limiting screen time would negatively affect them.
So, here’s the main takeaway.
Nature plays a role in the effect of social media on kid’s health but nurture is just as important.
It’s a classic debate of nature vs. nurture and it’s time to think about the real social media effects on our kids. Instead of simply accepting what the “healthy parenting industry” pushes, let’s talk about some ways to build healthy social media habits for your entire family (not just your kids!).
Step 1) Take some time for self-examination
Let’s be honest, it can be easy to forget how much our own upbringing can shape our view of the world. Think back to when you were a kid:
- How was new technology or the internet treated in your home?
- How has that impacted the way you feel about new technology?
If you grew up in an environment that welcomed new technology, you may feel excited to constantly adopt the latest smartphone and social media apps. If you grew up in the opposite environment, you may feel much more cautious about trying something new.
Let’s be clear here. There is no right or wrong way to view smartphones and social media! The point is to recognize your gut reaction for or against new technology.
Step 2) Examine your family dynamic with social media
Now that you’ve examined how your upbringing may affect your relationship with technology, it’s time to look within your home. Remember, it’s not just about how much time you or your family spend on social media; it matters how you view and talk about it with your family. Ask yourself:
- How does your family currently view social media?
- Is intense usage criticized or looked down on…maybe even unintentionally?
Remember the study! The impacts of technology aren't just measured by screen time. It’s about what your kids are doing on their phones, who they’re doing it with, AND how open their environment is to talk about it. Creating a safe space to talk about social media starts with you! When you regularly practice open communication at home, you decrease the chance that your kids might experience negative side effects or excessive technology use.
Step 3) Have an honest conversation with your kids
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. You’ve looked at your own bias towards social media and considered the dynamic inside your home. Now, it’s time to bring your kids into the conversation by asking them:
- How much do they feel like you or the rest of the family are on social media?
- What do they believe is the attitude at home about it?
Learning how your response to social media affects your kids is vitally important. Demonizing it (or banning it entirely) will create an environment that stifles the trust and openness your kid needs to establish with you.
Now, here’s where we’re different. We’re not going to tell you what to do because we believe one thing:
Parenting isn’t that easy. There is no one size fits all solution.
Yet, we know that we don’t just make a decision, enforce discipline, and suddenly find everything is better with our kids, especially with social media. Make room instead for tweaks and adjustments to fit your family and break through barriers to bring the loving connection you want back. Start a conversation to begin discovering what social media usage fits you and your family best.
After all, it’s your involvement that keeps social media use healthy and safe for your kids.
The Aqua One makes that easier than ever before.
Technology and social media no longer have to feel scary because you have access to every action taken on the Aqua One with the seamless monitoring in our Parent Dashboard. You never have to feel left out of their digital world and can say goodbye to the fear of letting your kid online! You’ll now be with them every single step of the way.