• Kerry Johnson

Mental Health and Children Part 2 – Social media

While some parents grew up with a certain amount of exposure to the web, it is unlikely to compare to the digital world of today. When I was growing up you couldn’t use the phone and the internet at the same time. Many children now have their own phones, Ipads and even apple watches that give them 24 hour access to the internet. Not only does this pose many dangers, but an increase in social media addiction that often goes unnoticed. Social media addiction combines excessive media consumption, with an increasing reliance on social media as a way to feel good. Many of us may be addicted to our phones, but how many of us recognise this? Phone and social media addiction goes unrecognised for adults as well as children, but can have many negative effects, including emotional, behavioural difficulties, changes in mood, withdrawal and anxiety.

Setting boundaries with phones and internet use may seem impossible when even our televisions and Alexa’s are linked to the internet, but it’s important to try. Leaving your phone in another room before going to bed can help with sleep, setting time limits to use social media and adhering to them gives us a chance to wind down and make sense of what we have seen, read or watched. If we as parents can demonstrate a healthy balance between the ‘real’ world and ‘internet’ world, this should reduce the ‘normalisation’ of social media reliance, as these worlds continue to become more blurred for us all!

What else can we do to help our children? My number one recommendation seems simple, but is often missing, which is very basic listening skills from parents. Most issues arising from schools, friendships, Covid, and of course online are unfortunately largely out of our control. However, my young clients tell me their parents will bombard them with unhelpful solutions, judgement and sometimes disregard of their struggles. There is a misconception that online issues such as cyberbullying are easier to deal with than bullying outside of the internet. If you can simply listen and empathise with your child and acknowledge that the issues they face are real, this can sometimes be enough. Having the space to offload to you as a responsible parent allows them to make sense of their issues, while also giving you an insight into their world. Often they are able to deal with things themselves but simply need the space to ‘vent’. If they know their problems are going to be met by a lack of empathy or a bombardment of ineffective solutions, then they are more likely to withhold their pain. This can build up and intensify some of their negative emotions. If the child knows they will be met by warmth and understanding they should feel safe enough to be more honest and open with you.

It might also be worth having conversations with your child about the comparisons they make with others online. It might be more difficult for children to recognise that people do not always portray the truth on social media, and that images are often filtered, edited, and represent a mere snapshot in someone’s life rather than their whole lifestyle.

A combination of boundaries, warmth and understanding could be key to helping our children manage their mental health but there is no one size fits all approach. As stated in my previous article, if your child is really struggling, the sooner you can seek more professional help the better before it manifests into a larger problem in adult life. Communication is key and remember you are parents, not mental health experts, and it’s ok to seek help when needed!

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