Proud to be a Pioneer: Social Media and our Mental Health

October 28, 2019

Most of you reading this will admit to having some presence on social media. Many of you will readily admit that it’s not always a wholesome place to learn or share. There are positive virtues of social media, to be sure, but also dangers we don’t think hard enough about, especially as it relates to our kids and community.

Lest you feel I’m preaching from the pulpit…no, I’m among the masses here having enjoyed parts of social media and felt the crushing weight of comparison when I didn’t keep things in perspective. I personally use tools to keep up on learning, research, and stay connected to friends and family across the country. We use social media as a district, but almost entirely as a one-way communication device for information, schedules, and promotion of students, staff and activities.

If you’re a parent, you have likely already heard that this generation of young people is increasingly susceptible to anxiety and depression. This is especially true for girls. There are folks who say maybe we’re over-diagnosing, or kids are just softer, and you can theorize that…except that the suicide rate among young people is increasing significantly. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recently reported that the suicide rate for 15-19 year-olds increased by 76% over the last decade, and the number tripled for ages 10-14 in the same decade. That means this is REAL…and the question is why? One answer is that we are creating a fragile generation by overprotecting them (from failure, risk, boredom, and free play). Remember, we grow stronger from a degree of adversity. Another is that smart phone in your hand or on your belt right now…and its connection to social media. Social media’s effects on kids include increased anxiety and depression, sleep deprivation, exposure to online bullying (relational aggression is just as tough as physical aggression), worries about body image (comparison with “perfect” others), and the fear of missing out.

Yes, there are positive aspects. We stay connected with friends and families at distances. We can use social media for learning (if we’re discerning about sources), and we can often get information via social media (CPS social media pages give information, updates, and connections to positive happenings in the district as an example). But the next scroll of the timeline can lead to false information, a fear of missing the event all my friends appear to be at, or a comparison with someone who only shows the best parts of their lives (and we all have trials, don’t we?).

What do our kids need? They need to take risks, to learn resilience, and to communicate with their friends and families…face to face. They need your wisdom and listening ear. They don’t NEED social media, and they certainly don’t need it without your boundaries and oversight.

Teens struggle with managing distractions and temptations naturally. They will struggle to learn to manage it appropriately when their midbrains aren’t developed yet (like trying to make clothes fit that are way too big). Remember that social media is really an entertainment platform…and great energy is spent on extracting your data, preferences and personal information. Social media cannot replace the hard work necessary for success, it simply reduces the opportunities for kids to practice dealing face-to-face with their peers, a real skill they need to master to be successful in real life. Most importantly, social media can cause lost connections with family. They view “friends” as their foundation and since the brain is still forming, they need healthy family attachment more than with their peers…it is just as important now as when they were preschoolers.

Remember…I’m not preaching at you – I’ve made mistakes personally and with my own kids. Looking back, I sure don’t wish I had started earlier with social media. Do you? It can wait. Be great parents now, and model healthy habits and communication. Your kids will thank you later, and our community will as well. Thanks for reading, and thanks for making Clare a great place to live and learn!

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