Tech corner

Is social media an obstacle to my child’s mental health?

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As a parent, would you know the warning signs that your child needs to step away from social media? Or what steps to take if they do?

Children growing up today are more connected than ever before.

And while social media and being online can offer many positives – it can be a “double edged sword” bearing online dangers.

The power to share every detail of your life online can bring with it a whole host of problems and levels of scrutiny that no other generation has had to deal with before.

But, as a parent, would you know the warning signs that your child needs to step away from social media? Or what steps to take if they do?

Writing for online safety body Internet Matters psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos says the hidden dangers of exposure to social media are only now becoming apparent.

“A few years ago, when I began researching the effects of social media on young people much of the worry was around access to things like pornography and the possibility of children being approached by strangers online,” she says.

“While these are still important issues to address, I think that increasingly it’s the more hidden aspects of the online world that have the potential to affect our children’s mental health.

“Young people live in a world today that is constantly connected and while this comes with benefits, it also comes with a feeling that you’re constantly visible, and by extension judged. This increased awareness of your visibility and access to other people’s opinions about; how they look, behave, act, what they post, how often they post, what they like, how they comment on others profiles – is leaving many children feeling stressed and unable to turn off the amplified sense of self-awareness that social media inevitably leaves you with.”

Linda says if you suspect that your children are feeling the pressure to live up their online identities, there are a few things that you can do:

Ways to support your child

  1.    Be informed: Educate yourself about the social media sites your child is using so you can really understand what they are feeling. They are more likely to take your advice onboard if you’re speaking their language.
  2.    Encourage critical thinking: Be aware of how you approach a discussion with your child. Avoid being judgmental or preaching, instead invite your kids to talk about their feelings and encourage them to think critically about why they do what they do online, the pressure they feel and about how much control they actually have.
  3.   Talk generally: Don’t be afraid to talk about social media as a phenomenon that effects not just them but everyone. This may make it easier for them to open up and think critically. For example you might discuss whether social media can distort expectations of beauty or popularity or how much they believe the pictures or ideas that their friends or indeed they post are a realistic portrayal of life and happiness.
  4.    Acknowledge that sometimes things can feel overwhelming: Exams, family, after school commitments, friends it’s a lot to juggle – make a point of acknowledging this. Normalising it will help contain feelings of anxiety. Also look at how their social media commitments add to their to do list. Doing this will make it easier for them talk about boundaries when it comes to how much time they spend engaging on social media.
  5.     Help them develop realistic expectations and better time management skills: Tell them that you understand how important social media is to them and that you respect that but also explain that feeling stressed is something that you can empathise and help with. Work together to set up a homework and other commitments schedule. Ensure you incorporate down times away from social media. Talk about activities that can help de-stress like physical activity and creativity and the importance of face to face time with family friends. Help them understand that the idea that the two things (connecting on line and connecting face to face) don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

 

  • KCOM is an official supporter of online safety organisation Internet Matters as part of its drive to help local parents keep their children safe in the digital world.

Internet Matters is backed by the UK’s biggest broadband providers and supported by leading online child safety experts.

Its website offers a host of e-safety resources and advice for parents on issues including online bullying and making sure children don’t have access to inappropriate content.

Advice is organised into useful guides aimed at different age groups, ranging from the under-fives to teenagers.

Parents and schools are able to download these resources for free from the website www.internetmatters.org

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