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Oregon Family Magazine

Avoiding Risks of Social Media for Children

04/05/2023 ● By Pilar Bradshaw, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Social media has been with us for nearly 20 years now, but in some ways, we’re still only beginning to understand the extent of its risks to children.

Most social media platforms allow children to join once they reach age 13, although U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently warned that he believes that age is too young. Online interactions can affect children’s sense of identity and self-worth. What’s more, a study published in January showed that social media may actually be reshaping the way adolescent brains develop.

This Generation’s Cigarettes

Social media may turn out to be this generation’s cigarettes. Though cigarettes were originally touted as health aids, they are now known to pose a multitude of health risks, something that took time for society to realize and accept. Social media, too, was introduced before we understood that the rewards it offers have been shown to be more addictive than cocaine.

Young people also have difficulty processing all the negativity they experience via social media. The number of hours spent on social platforms are strongly correlated with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

We may often have the impression that children are well connected because of the time they spend with people they know online, but that often isn’t the case. Social media is an ineffective replacement for spending time in person with friends. Sometimes, overdependence on social media can lead to feelings of isolation that are even stronger than those from being alone.

What Can Parents Do?

There are several things we as parents can do to avoid the negative repercussions of social media. The most important step is to limit screen time, which includes modeling positive behavior. Limit your own screen time because if your child sees you on your phone often, it teaches them that the behavior is acceptable.

Along those lines, there are times and places to avoid having phones at all. Don’t have one in your bedroom and don’t allow your child to have one. Same goes for dedicated family time and mealtimes.

Also, take time to sit down with your child and discuss the dangers of social media. Follow them online. Spend time using their phone with them to teach them responsible behavior. It takes effort and education, but we can all help children avoid the downsides of social media.

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