What are the steps that parents should take if they feel that their child is suffering from mental health issue because of stress and social media use?
A few years ago, when I began researching the effects of social media on young people much of the worry was around access to things like pornography and the possibility of children being approached by strangers online. While these are still important issues to address, I think that increasingly it’s the more hidden aspects of the online world that have the potential to affect our children’s mental health.
Young people live in a world today that is constantly connected and while this comes with benefits, it also comes with a feeling that you’re constantly visible, and by extension judged. This increased awareness of your visibility and access to other people’s opinions about; how they look, behave, act, what they post, how often they post, what they like, how they comment on others profiles – is leaving many children feeling stressed and unable to turn off the amplified sense of self-awareness that social media inevitably leaves you with.
If you suspect that your children are feeling the pressure to liven up their online identities, there are a few things that you can do:
Ways to support your child
1. Be informed: Educate yourself about the social media sites your child is using so you can really understand what they are feeling. They are more likely to take your advice onboard if you’re speaking their language.
2. Encourage critical thinking: Be aware of how you approach a discussion with your child. Avoid being judgmental or preaching, instead invite your kids to talk about their feelings and encourage them to think critically about why they do what they do online, the pressure they feel and about how much control they actually have.
3. Talk generally: Don’t be afraid to talk about social media as a phenomenon that effects not just them but everyone. This may make it easier for them to open up and think critically. For example you might discuss whether social media can distort expectations of beauty or popularity or how much they believe the pictures or ideas that their friends or indeed they post are a realistic portrayal of life and happiness.
4. Acknowledge that sometimes things can feel overwhelming: Exams, family, after school commitments, friends it’s a lot to juggle – make a point of acknowledging this. Normalising it will help contain feelings of anxiety. Also look at how their social media commitments add to their to do list. Doing this will make it easier for them talk about boundaries when it comes to how much time they spend engaging on social media.
5. Help them develop realistic expectations and better time management skills: Tell them that you understand how important social media is to them and that you respect that but also explain that feelings stressed is something that you can empathise and help with. Work together to set up a homework and other commitments schedule. Ensure you incorporate down times from all the ‘have to’s’ including social media. Talk about activities that can help de-stress like physical activity and creativity and the importance of face to face time with family friends. Help them understand that the idea that the 2 things (connecting on line and connecting face to face) don’t have to be mutually exclusive.