Improving learner outcomes

Is social media impacting your wellbeing and mental health?

Jacqui Webber-Gant

Author Jacqui Webber-Gant

Date 23rd May 2019

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With social media now playing such a big part in our daily lives, are we sacrificing our mental health and wellbeing as well as our time?

A whopping 81% of parents now report that their children start using Facebook between 8 and 13 years of age, despite growing concerns about its negative affect upon mental health. But is social media and the omnipresence of digital interactions really the cause of so much anxiety?  

Social media and sleep  

It’s true that social media can be highly addictive, and research certainly indicates that screen use can be harmful if users are overexposed, especially late at night. A recent study carried out in Canada, found that nearly three quarters of teens spent at least an hour on social sites every day, which was enough to cause problems with sleep and leave them prone to performing poorly academically. The issue was worse among teenage girls who, as a result, were both more addicted to social media and more sleep deprived than boys. Those more likely to show addictive behaviours were young women, who also tended to have lower levels of education, income and self-esteem. 

The toxic mirror  

Social media can also be toxic for body image. It is highly visual and interactive, and appearance is central to success. Earlier this year, psychologists found robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, dieting, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents. Also, the sudden rise of the ‘wellness’ industry online has launched an entire industry of fitness celebrities on social media, with the drive for clean eating and wellness becoming a cover for dieting and deprivation.  

Social media can impact mental health in many ways, including: 

  • sleep deprivation – as discussed, recent research has indicated that screen use prior to sleep disturbs normal sleep patterns 
  • online bullying – it is very easy to bully or abuse another online, and internet trolls can easily target online users anonymously 
  • addictive behaviour – spending excessive amounts of time online to the detriment of other activities can be harmful academically and socially 
  • negative body image – social media is often blamed as a ‘toxic mirror’ portraying an ideal body image that causes people to question their looks and lose confidence (especially common in adolescence when teenagers are particularly vulnerable)  

Advice for parents 

Love it or hate it, social media seems here to stay! So what can parents do?  A key piece of advice is to simply check in with your child about what's going on. Ask for an opinion about the ways people modify their own appearance online: Why do people do it? What do they gain, and from whom? Sometimes just naming a feeling as normal can make a young adult feel less alone.  
 
1) Don’t just take your child’s phone away 

As a family, you can try and set screen-free times, whether it’s every evening after 9 p.m., on the car ride to school, an occasional screen-free weekend. Try limiting screen time to less than two hours a day, and letting the rest of the world in. 

2) Be good role models in your own use of tech 

Be mindful of your own distracted habit of reaching for your phone. Also, share some media activities with each other, playing games, watching YouTube clips, or reading up on mutual interests together. 

3) Work with your child to set social media expectations 

Ultimately, you want your child to put their devices down on their own, so that you’re helping them build their ability to manage their interactions with and through technology. Try setting a rule of not looking at your phone for at least 40 minutes to an hour before going to bed. This can help make a difference to the quality of sleep. 

As a parent, you may not be able to protect children from everything and fully understand social media and everything our kids are doing online. However, talking about social media and encouraging media literacy — filtering, avoiding, being careful of comparisons, and evaluating — is a step towards reducing any potential pitfalls of social media use, and raising kids who can take the ‘reality’ presented online with a grain of salt. 

Additional resources  

Teaching professionals can further develop an understanding of wellbeing and mental health with our new Supporting Wellbeing and Mental Health in Schools course available now.  

About the author

Jacqui is a Director of OnLineTraining. Contact Jacqui at training@oltinternational.net or on Twitter @Team_OLT.


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