Is Your Child’s Profile Happier than Her Real Life? Social Media Use and Anxiety in Children

If you are on Facebook you already know what a recent study found – it makes you sad.

Researchers revealed that the more young people used Facebook, the more they became dissatisfied with their lives. How ironic that the social network we use for fun and connection can lead to sadness and disconnect!

From TV to smart phones to social media, the lives of U.S. children and families are dominated 24/7 by media exposure. It’s only now that we are beginning to research and understand its affects on the mental health of our children and families.

Most parents are aware of the dangers social media networking poses to a child, including cyber bullying and child predators. But did you also know that new research shows that social media use can result in social anxiety in adolescents and teens?

According to studies, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Kids who have a TV in their bedroom spend more time with media and about 75 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds own cell phones, and nearly all teenagers use text messaging.

In the American Association of Pediatrics’ newly revised policy statement released Oct. 28, the group recommends that parents make a media use plan for their families that takes into account not only the quantity, but the quality and location of media used. This includes creating mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. It also encourages keeping all screen media (TVs, computers, tablets, etc.) out of a child’s bedroom and limits the amount of total entertainment screen time to less than two hours a day and discourages all screen media exposure for children under age two.

So what does this mean for the children who have already experienced years of unlimited technology use?

All this social media use is creating children who don’t want to talk on the phone or in person because it feels emotionally risky. Over a text message the child can present his best or worst face in a premeditated manner, but on the phone the conversation is happening in real time and feels very risky to kids who have increased social anxiety. They are worried about saying the wrong thing, saying too much, etc.

You can apply some basic parenting strategies to control your child’s wired life that will begin to free up his time to enjoy living a full life offline with more confidence and less anxiety.

If you are interested in having me speak to your school, church or synagogue on effects of social media on a child’s ability to make conversation or how to understand his anxiety better, please contact me for more information.

I have designed my workshops to help parents, educators and interested community members increase their understanding of anxiety, learn how it can affect students, know when intervention is needed, and how families can help. Specific anxiety disorders are discussed as well as anxiety that may not meet the diagnostic criteria but is commonly seen in young people and individuals with learning and spectrum issues and ADHD.

5 Easy Steps to Managing your Child’s Online Time

Parents, are you are perpetually pulling the plug on your child’s technology?  Do you struggle with knowing how much online time is enough time? You’re not alone.

Educate Yourself. Make time to learn about and understand the technology that your child is using to communicate with his friends. Mashable, TechCrunch and Wired Magazine are great resources for quick reads on the topic.

The Snapchat app for example is hugely popular right now with about 26 million users. It involves your child taking photos, videos, texts and drawings (better known as “Snaps”) and sending them to a preferred list of recipients. The content can then be viewed for a preselected range of 1 to 10 seconds, after which its hidden from the recipient’s device and deleted from the Snapchat server. This technology raises an interesting question, what’s in the content that it needs to be deleted so quickly in the first place.

If your child is using Snapchat he may or may not be aware (or care) about the new Snaphack Pro app, which lets users save “Snaps” to their iPhone camera roll without notifying the sender. If armed with knowledge like this, you can reaffirm to your child that his privacy is not always protected online.

Set Ground Rules and Monitor. Children need their parents to guide them online as they would in any other real life circumstance. Set the ground rules, be on the same page and track online behavior. Speak openly with your family members about supervising your child’s social media time. Know your child’s passwords and active accounts. If you find that an account has been created without your knowledge, make sure your child loses his online privileges. Discipline and disconnect.

Be a Model. Your child will also model your online behavior so know when to put the smartphone down and pick up the conversation. Never sleep with technology and also note that the amount of time spent with screens is one issue, and content is another. Your child will be curious about what you’re watching or reading on the Internet as much as you are about what they are. On the positive side, if you model pro-social media you can teach your child empathy, racial and ethnic tolerance, and a whole range of interpersonal skills. The important part of all this is to keep open the dialogue and share time spent on the web together.

Make Time for Small Talk. You are your child’s role model for emotional intelligence and learning social etiquette so take the opportunity to teach them your values. Recognize the chances to start a conversation with your child. A car ride to school, break during a sports game, and those slow lazy mornings could all build your child’s confidence by teaching him how to start and hold a conversation.

Also, instead of rewarding your child with a sticker for finishing his homework or doing a chore, you could congratulate him for maintaining eye contact during conversation.  A simple lesson like this will have a lifelong impact on his offline social skills.

Here are some ways to engage your child in small talk:

Ask your child, how would you start a conversation with someone they want to get to know? Ask what are the types of things they would talk about? What do they have in common to get the conversation started? Encourage them and stress the importance of talking in-person with people. It’s also essential that you stress that conflict should be resolved face-to-face instead of via text messaging.

If you’re having trouble implementing any of the above strategies, family therapy may be helpful. First mom and dad have to agree on their own family values and feelings about their connection to social networks and how it relates back to the children. If you are experiencing difficulties imparting values and setting boundaries in the home, then it may suggest some greater issues. Family therapy helps parents to clarify what they think is appropriate, then together therapist and parents can make a plan for how to set those values in motion.

If you feel that private therapy or a workshop would be beneficial, please feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment.

All material contained on this blog is for information purposes only. This information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional psychological advice. Always consult a qualified professional prior to utilizing any of the information provided in this post.