Are smartphones and social media hurting our kids?

Are smartphones and social media hurting our kids?

Dr. Lyndsey Garbi, Pediatrician

Posted February 2nd, 2018

 

I always thought I would be able to keep my children away from the social media craze and have them blissfully creating art and playing outdoors with the neighbors. Reality hit when I had my own child and realized that this was just not possible in today's world: "screens" are everywhere!

 

It leaves me feeling guilty and wondering what damage I could be doing to my child's welfare by allowing him to have a phone and partake in social media apps. Where is the balance between sheltering him and exposing him to all that has become the norm for this generation?

Can social media be hurtful for my kids?

A study by Dr. Jean Twenge, author of iGen, showed us some very concerning data. The year iPhones were owned by over 50% of us was the year more kids started to say they felt "sad, hopeless, and couldn't do anything right,". They felt left-out, they felt lonely, and they weren't spending as much time with friends. Dr. Twenge's study found a 33% increase between 2010 and 2015 in depression in adolescents, and a very concerning 31% increase in suicide rate. Twenge also notes that these increases were driven almost exclusively by females rather than males.

 

At first glance, this sets off my parenting alarm bells. Maybe at second glance too.

 

The feelings that our kids have make sense. In my own experience growing up, I hated knowing I wasn't invited somewhere. What if you knew about every single get-together you were not invited to and then saw pictures of all you were missing out on even as it was happening? This is the experience that smartphones are creating for us and for our kids - no wonder they feel more lonely!

 

On top of that, now kids can never walk away from their bullies completely because they are present on social media where the bullying continues. 

More time on social media means less time elsewhere

When kids spend too much time on social media, it's important to think about what they COULD be doing instead: reading, running around outside, engaging with friends, or learning new skills. Just thinking about what my kids could be missing out on is enough for me to put hard limits on smartphone usage time and tell them to "Go play!"

 

On the other hand

On the other hand, smartphones and social media have opened up alternative avenues for growth, learning, and freedom. Kids can check in from wherever they are and we can reach them at any time. They can learn about politics in other regions in addition to the latest fads and celebrity gossip. The technology may even stem intellectual curiosity and plant a seed for a future career. 

 

At the end of the day, it's all a balance and communication with our children is key. We still need to hold the authority as to what is age appropriate and put limits on this type of screen time.  We need to guide them and lead by example. We also need to recognize that each kid will be different and constantly changing so that the equilibrium between sheltering them and exposing them will as well.

 

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Lyndsey Garbi