Social Media's Impact On Kids: Pediatricians Weigh In
In today's online edition of Pediatrics, a new clinical report on The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families, presents the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of social media on the lives of our kids.
The report, written by pediatricians Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe and Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Communications and Media, is a compilation of statistical information on child and teen use of social media, an analysis of the positive benefits of social media use, risks associated with use of social media by kids, and monitoring and prevention steps that parents can take to avoid potential problems.
In a preface, the authors comment on the technical gap between some parents and kids when it comes to digital devices, and acknowledges that many parents don't have the time to keep up. That factor alone makes it difficult for parents and their children to participate in the online world together.
Benefits Of Children & Adolescent Use of Social Media
The authors are overall very favorable towards teens and pre-adolescents use of social media and cite the benefits of being exposed to new forms of socialization and ways to participate in activities, such as charitable, political and volunteer events that they might otherwise not even know about. Learning opportunities abound, whether it's course-related learning or personal-interested related, like that of a hobby or possible career.
The ability of teens to share their knowledge and learn from others greatly enhances not only their understanding of their peers but gives them greater confidence in their own abilities - communication and social skills, primarily.
Schools are able to post lessons online that can enhance presentations given in class and to provide supportive information for those who may be behind in their understanding. Direct, written communication with their teachers as well as with their peers, gives adolescents the opportunity to enhance their writing skills.
Increased access to health information has led adolescents to educate themselves about their own health concerns, whether it be about a chronic illness, depression, or sexually transmitted diseases. It enables them to communicate with others and share experiences with the luxury of anonymity.
Risks of Children & Adolescents Using Social Media
Cyberbullying, sexting, and a new phenomenon called "Facebook depression," are the top three concerns of O'Keefe and Clarke-Pearson because they are the most common risks. Cyberbullying causes kids the most stress and can have very serious implications, as you have probably heard. Signs of cyberbullying may include an unwillingness to answer the phone or a sudden lack of interest in using media at all.
Sexting has different consequences which can lead to child pornography charges, suspension from school, but emotional distress as well, if a teen's 'private' photo or sex text doesn't remain private.
Adolescents tend to require considerable acknowledgment and support from their peers and when that is not forthcoming, teens may show symptoms of depression. When a teen's support network is online at a social media site, such as Facebook, and frequent approbation is not forthcoming consistently, kids may show the signs that are typical of depression - thus, the term 'Facebook depression.' Parents must be aware of the alternatives kids are finding on the web.
There is also a need to insure as much privacy as possible on the Internet. Any communication that takes place online stays online and leaves a footprint for those who later seek to find it. Even personal messages can come back to haunt teens later in life when they are job hunting or even getting ready to marry!
Additionally, O'Keefe and Clarke-Pearson cite the influence of online advertising on youngsters and teens, particularly targeted advertising, which is generated by the child's own digital footprint. Parents and children need to be alerted to how influential these ads can be.
This report is as much for parents as it is for pediatricians. Pediatricians, as they are trained physicians, may be more alert to signs of emotional disturbances or physical problems that have not been revealed to the parents, but they do need to be well-informed about the contribution that social media might have.
Parents, more than ever, need to be knowledgeable about what their kids are doing on the Internet, even though it is more difficult today, as the media includes not just a computer, but mobile phones and other portables. Most of all, they need to instill trust in their children, so that when they experience fear or guilt or depression, they will confide in their parents. Also, it is important to let them know that their pediatricians are trustworthy and can help them.
Parents and pediatricians might want to read the report in its entirety and then try to get more expertise on technical issues elsewhere. The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families is available for download at no fee on the AAP website.
These resources are also available:
- CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media by Gwenn O’Keeffe, M.D., FAAP
- AAP Internet safety resources site, http://safetynet.aap.org
- Parent Plus: "Teach children to beware of bullies in the cyber-schoolyard," March AAP News, http://aapnews.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/32/3/25-e
- Wired, AAP News