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Instagram Good For Selfies, Not For Mental Health: How To Teach Your Kids To Be Smart About Social Media

23 May 2017, 11:44 pm EDT By Alexandra Lozovschi Tech Times
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Without a doubt, social networking offers a great deal of advantages in keeping people connected in spite of geographical distances and enabling them to express their thoughts and emotions on a much wider level.

Social media is where we go to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances, to get the latest scoop on what they've been up to and to showcase our own achievements.

Kids And Social Media

For children and teenagers in particular, social media platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, have become consistent means of seeking and granting validation.

Tweens and teens turn to these social platforms to give and receive emotional support to and from their peers, to become aware of others' experiences, to voice (or rather type) their feelings and ideas, as well as to get a sense of their own identity and be part of a community of like-minded people.

All this makes social media a constant presence in their lives. According to KidsHealth.org, about 90 percent of teens have used some form of social media and 75 percent have a profile on a social networking site. The website also shows more than half of all American teens visit social networking sites every day.

Why Social Media Can Be Bad For Children

But social networking does have its set of drawbacks. The results of recent studies investigating how social media affects our psyche have left parents wondering just how good social platforms are for their children and when the level of engagement becomes too much.

The latest study by the British Royal Society for Public Health, which surveyed nearly 1,500 youngsters and millennials ages 14 to 24 on their social networking habits, revealed social media can be detrimental to a young person's mental health.

The research found that extensive social media use among young people can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem, poor sleep, depression, pressure over body image, and the fear of missing out on what is happening. Of all the social media platforms the study evaluated, Instagram was deemed the worst for young users' mental health, mainly due to its negative impact on body image.

Last year, a study by Pitt's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health linked heavy use of social media to depression, while another research conducted at the University of Glasgow in 2015 discovered social media pressure can cause depression and anxiety in teens.

Other downsides of spending a lot of time online include being vulnerable to cyberbullying, "Facebook depression" (a new phenomenon where "de-friending" and online bullying lead to symptoms of depression), exposure to inappropriate content, and sexting.

What Parents Can Do

There's quite a lot parents can do to minimize these risks and prepare their children for healthy social media interactions.

The main thing is to remind kids social networks shouldn't replace real life, and to help them understand how to keep things in perspective, enjoy the good side of social media platforms and avoid being washed away by their negative side.

Parenting.com advises parents to take action and monitor their children's online activity, from their attitude and behavior all the way to the content kids may be posting.

A good strategy to protect the young ones from online abuse is to openly discuss the possible dangers of social media. Equally important is teaching children how to deal with cyber bullies.

If your child is old enough to have a social media account, make sure their online profile is age-appropriate and that they make good use of the privacy settings. To highlight their importance, go through the settings together so that your child understands each one. Also, explain that passwords are there to protect them against things like identity theft and should never be shared with anyone.

At the same time, educating tweens and teens on body image and the importance of body positivity may spare them a lot of anxiety and prejudice, ultimately teaching them not to compare themselves with others from a physical standpoint.

To help parents steer their kids in the right direction when it comes to online content, Parenting.com also suggests a series of kid-friendly social networking sites, listed according to children's ages.

Lastly, parents are encouraged to set ground rules about spending time on social media and lead by example in demonstrating proper social networking etiquette.

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