5 Ways To Protect Your Child’s Social Media Mental Health
Parenting is entering new territory in an era where the virtual and physical worlds blend. While the screens surrounding our children offer some benefits, they also have some risks. Social media is a driving factor influencing our children’s mental health. That’s why Racing for Mental Health is here to discuss five unique ways you can support your child’s social media mental health.
Unmasking Social Media’s Impact
Let’s begin by discussing how social media impacts your child’s mental health. Many of us are familiar with comparison, fear of missing out (FOMO), and cyberbullying that can happen on social media platforms. However, social media can impact your child’s mental health in other less-known and less-talked-about ways:
- The Age of Filters and Facades
Social media can paint a distorted image of reality in a world full of filters and perfected selfies. Kids often see carefully created versions of their peers’ lives. This often leaves them questioning their worth and uniqueness.
- Silent Echo Chambers
Social media can sometimes create echo chambers where kids only see similar viewpoints. When we only see viewpoints that echo our own, our understanding of the world becomes skewed. In turn, we become less receptive to diverse perspectives. An echo chamber often impacts our ability to empathize and connect offline.
- Digital Identity Crisis
We are all journeying to discover who we are. Some of the biggest questions we ask about our identity and place in the world occur when we’re growing up. Children often wrestle with the paradox of crafting a digital persona while searching for their true selves. The pressure to fit in with online trends and expectations can blur the lines between authenticity and performance.
- The “Like” Economy
Getting a “like” on social media causes the brain’s reward system to fill with dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone. Everyone likes to feel good. Typically, when we taste dopamine, our body wants more. The rush from receiving likes and comments can become an addiction. Kids may gauge their self-worth by the metrics of online validation. Doing so can undermine their self-esteem and sense of intrinsic value.
The Unfiltered Window into Maturity
There’s one big way that social media is impacting our children: exposing them to mature content. Yes, content filters and moderation efforts exist. However, they aren’t foolproof; kids can stumble upon content far beyond their years.
- Too Much Too Soon
Social media platforms host a wide array of content, including posts, videos, and discussions. These posts are not well-filtered and may feature explicit language, sexual themes, or graphic imagery. Kids, particularly those with unrestricted access, can accidentally come across such content.
- Premature Desensitization
Seeing too much mature content before they’re ready can desensitize children to adult themes and situations. This can bring children into adulthood too soon, impacting their emotional development. It can also affect their ability to process complex issues.
- Emotional Overwhelm
Seeing explicit content or emotionally charged discussions can overwhelm a child’s developing emotional resilience. It may lead to confusion, anxiety, or distress as they grapple with topics they may not be emotionally prepared to comprehend.
- Peer Pressure and Misinformation
Exposure to explicit content can expose children to misinformation and distorted perceptions of relationships, identity, and self-worth. This can contribute to unhealthy peer pressure and unrealistic expectations.
SOS: Safe Online Standards For Kids’ Mental Health
The problem of unregulated social media consumption for children is rampant. Fashion icon Kenneth Cole is working on the SOS: Safe Online Standards for Kids’ Mental Health program. This program will define standards using data and implement a rating system for content. While we wait for SOS to debut, let’s talk about how you can help your children navigate the social media landscape.
5 Ways To Support Your Child’s Mental Health With Social Media
In our digital age, where constant connection is the norm, consider introducing these unique ways to support healthy social media consumption and perspective for your children.
1. Unplugged Moments of Reflection
Encourage your child to maintain a digital journal as a private document or in a dedicated app. This journal can serve as a space for them to write down their thoughts, emotions, and experiences related to social media. Please encourage them to reflect on how certain posts or interactions make them feel. This practice can help them gain self-awareness and identify any negative patterns.
Social Media Breaks
Choose specific times, such as weekends or school breaks, as “social media breaks.” During these breaks, plan family outings to make the break seem like a fun opportunity to be a part of the world.
Counting Gratitude, Not Likes
Shift the focus from counting likes on posts to counting moments of gratitude. Create a gratitude journal. Your child can record daily moments of joy, kindness, or personal achievement within its pages. Celebrate these as genuine markers of success. This helps shift the focus (and the dopamine rush) from social media interactions to authentic interactions with life.
2. Creative Expression as an Outlet
Explore Other Forms Of Self-Expression
Create a schedule for digital detox days. The emphasis on these days is to disconnect and engage in creative activities. Encourage them to explore various forms of creativity, such as painting, drawing, writing, or even trying out a new recipe. These activities serve as a healthy outlet for self-expression.
Collaborative Art Projects
Collaborate with your child on creative projects. Try painting, photography, or writing together! These activities can strengthen your relationship while providing a creative outlet and means of connection outside the online world.
Digital Doppelgänger Days
Let’s experiment. Have your child create a parody account or a fictional online persona for fun. They don’t need to do this online but could do it on paper. This exercise can help them see how easy it is to create whatever you want online that might not be real.
3. Community Building Beyond the Screen
Local Interest Groups
Help your child find clubs or groups related to their interests. These in-person gatherings can build deeper connections, whether it’s a sports team, a book club, or a gardening group. In addition, they can provide a sense of belonging, making the need to find belonging online less important.
Encourage your child to explore volunteer opportunities within your community. Volunteering allows them to give back, exposes them to people from all walks of life, and can boost their self-esteem.
Digital Downtime Discussions
Establish a weekly family tradition of “digital downtime discussions.” During these sessions, everyone shares their weekly online experiences. You can highlight moments of personal growth or digital dilemmas. Encourage your child to reflect on their digital identity and its alignment with their true self.
4. Digital Mentorship
Find people with positive online experiences and self-regulation. Ask if they will mentor your child in navigating social media. They can share insights, offer guidance on online etiquette, and help your child avoid potential pitfalls.
Tech Mentorship Networks
Encourage your child to join a tech mentorship network. These networks can connect them with mentors who inspire them to use technology for learning, expression, and positive change.
5. Embrace the “Slow Social Media” Movement
Teach your child the importance of creating their online presence deliberately. Encourage them to post with purpose and intention rather than for validation. As with everything, it is about something other than how much time you spend. It’s about the quality of time.
Encourage your child to set clear boundaries for their social media use. This could include designated times for checking notifications or limiting the number of platforms they are on. It may also include who they interact with, what type of content they post, and what conversations they don’t engage in. Slow social media is about making conscious choices in the digital world.
Let’s Talk About It!
As parents, we want to protect our children from every potentially hurtful or hard thing in this world. While cutting social media off may seem tempting, we encourage you to embrace the digital age mindfully. Our digital age requires adaptability and a willingness to explore unconventional avenues. Social media’s impact on your child’s mental health is hard to navigate. But you can give them the tools to navigate social media confidently, resilient, and authentically. Remember, the goal isn’t to remove screens entirely but to give your child the tools to improve their social media mental health. Together, we can build a generation of mentally strong digital experts.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Please comment below to share any of your social media tips. In addition, check out our Community Ambassadors Program! Our program gives you tools to start a mental health support group. The group can support other parents needing mental health support for themselves and their children.