(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Social media apps can be a great outlet for teens to connect with friends, explore their interests and express their creativity, but it’s not without risks. As social media use increases among teens and tweens, a new survey by The On Our Sleeves Movement For Children’s Mental Health reveals half (50%) of parents of children under 18 have noticed their child(ren)’s mental health suffer in the past 12 months because of social media use.
“Parents have to decide when their children are ready to have access to social media and how they can monitor their use to make sure they’re being safe and that they’re not experiencing negative effects on their mood or self-esteem,” said Dr. Ariana Hoet, clinical director of On Our Sleeves and a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “The best way to do that is to plan ahead and start the conversation early so that everyone in the household is on the same page from the start.”
The survey also found that the number of parents who feel comfortable having a conversation with their kids about mental health has dropped 5% compared to just a year ago. Dr. Hoet says the best approach is to listen more than you speak, and she encourages parents to stay engaged with what their teens are watching and who they’re communicating with.
“Kids want to feel like we’re paying attention to them and we care. And we can show them that by sitting down and saying things like, ‘Can you show me your favorite video? Can you show me your favorite content creator,’” Hoet said. “Then you can start to ask those open-ended questions like, ‘Why do you like following this person? What is funny about this? How do you feel when you’re on social media?’”
OnOurSleeves.org helps parents get started with expert advice on what’s appropriate for kids based on age, stage of development and if there are any mental health concerns. It also offers conversation starters and family social media plan templates that can help families establish limits for use and content, schedule regular check-ins and create a plan to ask for help.
“The family’s social media plan is kind of like a contract for how social media is going to be used in the household. And it is for everyone, not just for the child, but for adults, siblings, everyone in the household,” Hoet said.
Parents should look for changes in mood and behavior in their children that may be signs of distress, such as social withdrawal, sleep disruptions and changes in eating habits. While most social media apps allow users to create a profile at the age of 13, Hoet says there is no magic number to determine when kids are ready for social media exposure. Establishing trust and communication and considering their behavior and maturity level can help parents decide when and how their child should be allowed to use social media.