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 who are hostile or mean. Consider hiding posts 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.

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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We talked to Jamie W. Franks, Clinical Social Worker, about the effects of social media on children:

“As with anything, social media has positive and negative effects. It allows youth to stay connected with friends and family that move or have never lived close to them. However, bullying, harassment, and rumors are not left at school, but follow them home and can be made public for the entire world to see. If you aren’t getting any positive comments or reinforcement then you are left feeling worthless and not good enough. I would encourage parents to always have passwords for their children’s accounts and to monitor those accounts. Set limits with social media and encourage them to walk away from it and spend time doing other activities. The most important thing a parent can do is to be willing to talk about anything and everything that comes up, no matter how uncomfortable.

There are positive ways for youth to utilize social media. Staying connected to a best friend that moved away, following a band, finding new interests and people are all positive influences. I’ve seen youth be more informed about world events because of social media than in the past due to news feeds.”