What’s the biggest lie you tell yourself? Mine is “Oh, I’m just going to check my phone for a couple minutes.” I’m sure you can relate. It’s like stepping into an inverted Narnia wardrobe: What feels like a couple minutes is actually an hour.
Why is it so easy to lose track of time on social media? What is the relationship between social media and teen depression? What’s the science on how social media affects the brain?
These are good questions, and thankfully there’s a lot of research and knowledge about the dangers of social media for kids—and us adults too! Here’s everything you and your kids need to know about the effects of social media.
How Social Media Affects The Brain
So, how exactly does social media affect our minds? It’s as addicting as a drug, and it was designed to be that way. There are a few important points to understand about how social apps were designed to promote unhealthy social media habits:
Your Attention is the Product
Social media platforms most likely didn’t intend to create the consequences that we face today. After all, they’re just businesses, corporations trying to connect people and make some revenue. But how exactly are they making that revenue? According to the ex-employees of major social media platforms featured in The Social Dilemma, the product is you. Advertisers are the customers and your attention is the product they are after. *Cue The Twilight Zone theme song.*
Algorithms are Built for Addiction
Social media software developers use algorithms that essentially get better and better at predicting your likes, dislikes, and opinions, and they use those algorithms to keep feeding you things that will catch your attention. Their goal is to get you to spend as much time as possible on their platform in order to increase your exposure to ads—and if you ask me, they’re doing a bang-up job. Unfortunately, those same algorithms don’t provide solutions for how to prevent social media addiction.
Social Media and Teen Depression
Are social media and teen depression a connected problem today? The answer is yes. To better illustrate this, here are a few potential effects of social media on teens and children.
Social Media Contributes to Suicide
Jonathan Haidt, American social psychologist and professor, gives us a sobering glimpse into the effects of social media in his interview on The Social Dilemma. Drawing upon figures from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Haidt shows how suicide and self-harm rates for pre-teen and teenage girls have dramatically increased since the beginning of social media. For girls ages 15-19, suicide rates have increased by 70% (per 1,000,000 since 2009, and the rates for girsl ages 10-14 have increased by 151% (per 1,000,000). A recent study likewise shows a positive association between increasingly higher levels of social media use and suicide in females approaching adulthood.
Overuse of Social Media Affects Mental Health
A study of 5,208 people by the American Journal of Epidemiology found that declines in mental and physical health and life satisfaction are associated with more frequent social media use. And yet another study conducted by the European Scientific Journal shows a strong relationship between increased social media use and low self-esteem.
How to Avoid the Dangers of Social Media
Though your child faces the dangers of social media in their day-to-day lives, with the right tools, they can stay safe and healthy. Here’s how you can start teaching kids about social media use:
Get a Phone With Regulated Social Media
Help your kids learn how to regulate their social media consumption so they can develop healthy use habits for life. Troomi phones with no social media are the perfect place for your child to start building these skills. As your child learns to handle their phone responsibly, you can use the built in parental controls to gradually give them more access to software like social media so they can eventually regulate their own use.
Set Screen Time Rules
Social media isn’t bad just like food isn’t bad. However, scrolling through social media for hours on end, or eating an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting, definitely isn’t great for your health (not speaking from experience. . .). We stay physically healthy by making sure we don’t overeat and we can be more mentally healthy by not overindulging in social media.
Many of the difficulties caused by social media are attributed to overuse. Set screen time rules as a family to help prevent unhealthy social media use. These rules could include things like not having phones in bedrooms and bathrooms or only using phones for an hour a day.
Be an Example
As you know, actions speak louder than words, so make sure you set an example for your kids. If your child sees you constantly scrolling through Instagram at the expense of in-person relationships, they won’t see the need to limit their own social media use.