Smart Phones and Social Media in Children

I’ve recently been doing a lot of personal research on the effects of technology and the correlation between mental health and anxiety. As my children get older, my research has broadened from looking at data on adult mental health, to children and youth mental health. 

I know the day will come when my children will ask for a cell phone or access to social media. In my mind the answer is simple – absolutely no way! But as the parent reading this would also know, it’s not that easy. At the end of the day, I want to ensure I’m prepared to make the best decision for our family, but also be able to back up my reasoning with research. 

I just finished the book Glow Kids by Nicholas Karadaras which outlines the potential dangers to kids of screen time, whether it be from a tablet, a mobile phone, or a desktop computer. The book documents how the digital age affects neurochemistry and brains, particularly those of vulnerable young children. 

I think it’s safe to say that almost all of us have seen a schoolroom, a restaurant, or airplane passengers with everyone’s face glued to their glowing screens. According to Karadaras, kids between 8-18 are estimated to spend 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen, which does not count the additional 1.5 hours of texting and talking on a cell phone. Another alarming truth Glow Kids shared was the potential connections between screen time and a number of mental health conditions including depression, ADHD, aggression and even psychosis. 

I recently attended a parent session at my children’s school where a speaker came and did a talk about raising resilient and compassionate children. During the Q&A portion, a question was asked, “how do we say no to social media when all their friends have it”. 

Her response:

“We are their parents, not their friends. It’s our job to protect them, not make them happy all the time. We can say no. Our kids may be angry with us. They may say they hate us. But the alternative, letting them have social media, will have far worse consequences. One day, they will look back and be so thankful their parents cared so much about them that they made hard decisions because they knew it was best for them”

2010 was the year that smartphones and social media became present. And since 2010, there has been a very steady increase in the rates of attempted suicides (see CDC data here) in teens and rates of depression. There is also medical evidence that explains why preteens (from around 10 years old) start seeking social rewards based on their brain development, and why it is so dangerous for them to be getting them from social media. 

Then there is the issue of our kids being constantly ‘on’. If they have a phone and/or social media, it consumes them. It’s all they think about. We can even understand this as well adjusted, educated adults. My husband and I would say we are very self aware when it comes to the use of our phones and its impact on our family and our relationships, and even WE still find ourselves mindlessly scrolling from time to time. It’s a trap, and it was designed that way. 

I saw this video from the TODAY show that shared a new report from Common Sense Media. Have a watch here. Watching this video I felt so convicted. I often think maybe we’re being overly protective of our children in the real world, and not protective enough with smartphones and social media. 

So, with all that said, I still have a lot to learn before we make any hard and fast decisions on future cell phone use our children will or will not receive. We really want to take the time to research this properly and to make the most informed decision we can. I am truly a believer in the whole ‘village’ concept and that sharing our knowledge and ideas is power. The more we share our ideas the more empowered we will be as parents when making these tough decisions. 

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