The excitement of the new year often means making resolutions — some that are obtainable, many that are not. But what about taking a look at social media use in the new year?
First, let’s consider the benefits of social media, which include improved health and fitness as it links to fitness tracking apps, allows users to keep informed on new fitness information and product reviews, and helps motivate users with similar interests. This technology can also provide social support for those trying to eat healthier or lose weight as online users can help keep you accountable. There are apps to track your food intake and food blogs to learn healthy recipes. Posting your progress online can keep you on track and motivate others to do the same.
What are the downfalls of social media?
Have you ever felt down about yourself after strolling through social media? Many of these negative feelings are tied to how you’re unrealistically comparing yourself to the highlights on someone’s social media feed. A recent study showed that social media use is linked to increased feelings of depression and loneliness. This was even more apparent for those who were already experiencing depression.
For teens, in particular, social media presents standards that are impossible to achieve and can create immense self-doubt, making teens feel that they need to project an image of perfection. But social media platforms will continue to be in the lives of teens and adults alike, so learning digital self-care is integral.
How can adults help teens manage social media?
As social media is a major means of connection, forbidding social media use will make teens feel isolated and “less than cool” as compared to peers. So, stop yourself from taking their phone away. Instead, consider the following:
Model healthy social media use. Put the phone down at dinner time or during game night and show your children how to be present.
Have ongoing conversations with your children about what peers are posting and how this makes them feel. Ask them to share their motivations behind their own posts. As adults, be aware of how social media is making you feel and temporarily remove yourself from sites if they are having a negative impact.
Discuss how users create posts to portray a perfect image. Show examples of how reality is different from the virtual world. Help children see the good and bad in their own lives. This is important for adults to remember as well as to not get caught up in making comparisons.
Set ground rules about how much time children can spend on social media. Remember that increased usage can impact feelings of depression and loneliness for adults, too.
Monitor your children’s social media to see what hashtags they follow, blogs they read, and videos they watch. This can alert you to potential concerns.
Check the privacy settings on your children’s devices to ensure they are optimized.
Encourage teens to remove themselves from seeing posts of other users that are hurtful. For example, they might find it painful to see social gatherings from which they were excluded. They can change their settings to restrict or block these posts. This goes for adults too!
Stay educated on the latest apps and methods that permit users to bypass your filters, etc.
Encouraging your teens to responsibly use social media now will help them in the future. Stopping use entirely may not be realistic as this is where friends and colleagues connect to attend events, where businesses market products, and where users can stay informed about many positive aspects of health and wellness. Adults and teens alike can learn to protect themselves, however, to get the most benefit out of social media, while limiting the negative aspects. While resolutions may not often work, ensuring you take care of yourself digitally and otherwise is hopefully an ongoing journey.
Terri A. Erbacher, Ph.D. is a school psychologist and professor of psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is the author of the text “Suicide in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide to Multilevel Prevention, Assessment, Intervention, and Postvention.”