September 14, 2023

Is Social Media Impacting Your Child's Mental Health?

Our nation is facing a mental health crisis.

Children and teens are dealing with the intense emotions as they grow up in a digital age where much of their lives are spent online.

Twenty-two percent (22%) of high school students in a recent survey said that they had seriously considered suicide within the past year, up from 16% in 2011 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). 

?Female students continue to be at higher risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors than their male counterparts. 

Among the multitude of factors contributing to increased suicide rates, such as drug use and social isolation, the influence and impact of social media on the mental health of children and adolescents must not be ignored. There is growing evidence linking heavy social media use with increased risks for anxiety and depression. Earlier this year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory stating social media presents "profound risk of harm' for children. 

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal company research, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee (2021) that the company routinely chose "profits over safety." That research revealed: 

  • 13.5% of U.K. teen girls said their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after starting on Instagram (owned by Facebook, now Meta)
  • 17% of teen girls said their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram
  • 32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. 

National efforts to hold social media platforms accountable for their products and algorithm-driven content continue to grow. Hundreds of school districts across the country have joined a class action lawsuit against four tech giants -- the parent companies of Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube -- arguing social media companies have fueled today's "unprecedented mental health crisis" among U.S. youth. More than a third of all U.S. teens (35%) say they use one of these platforms ‘almost constantly’ (Pew Research, 2022).

Children and teens who spend hours daily on their digital devices to express themselves and stay connected may compare their own lives to the "best of" moments featured on curated social media feeds, and potentially experience feelings of being less than adequate. 

Further, as nearly half of teens report to have been bullied or harassed online (Pew Research, 2022), it is critical for parents to teach their child to communicate any concerns they may encounter on their digital devices, as well as how to stay safe online in order to minimize negative effects on their mental health.

The powerful film, “ Cost of Beauty: A Dove Film,” portrays the real story of Mary, a young person whose mental health has been impacted by social media. (3 minutes)

***Trigger warning: this content may be inappropriate for some viewers.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. 

There are several practical ways you can help protect your child's mental health online:

  • Encourage your child to connect with others offline. This can help them avoid a "fear of missing out" or FOMO.
  • Reduce screentime. Teens and young adults who reduced their social media use by 50% for just a few weeks saw significant improvement in how they felt about both their weight and their overall appearance (American Psychological Association, 2023)
  • Help your child understand that peers post the highlights of their lives.
  • Remind your child that social media isn’t always showing real life - photos are often edited for filtered.
  • Encourage your children to question what they see. Don't accept everything they see or read as fact.
  • Engage in frequent conversations about their internet use so they feel comfortable coming to you if or when there is a concern.
  • Know what platforms they are using and who their online friends are.

For more information how to protect your child on social media platforms and on their digital devices, visit EIE's Internet Safety 101® website. Also, be sure to visit our Rules 'N ToolsChecklist!

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.