Ask Dr. Jean: Social Media and Mental Health


(Arti Freeman) #1

Dear Dr. Jean,

I heard that teens who are on social media for more than two hours a day, report poor self-rated mental health, stress and anxiety. What are some ways we can better support children through this digital era and ensure it doesn’t negatively impact their mental health?

Anonymous (Service Provider)

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(Dr. Jean Clinton) #2

What a timely question this is, with the recent release of the Toronto District School Board census data showing grade 9-12 students are spending 60% of their time on social media (girls slightly more than boys) and that more students in grades 7-12 felt nervous, stressed or under pressure and worried about their mental health, physical health, and grades.

Very telling is also the fact that another Boards School Climate Report where just around half of the students report talking to their parents about school and concerns. There may be correlations here but what is clear to me is that our young people are growing up more relationally and socially disconnected. It’s not the time on social media that is the key issue but the lack of authentic, genuine, felt connection and relationships with others.

(Full Census: Here)

How we can help young people through this is a challenging question. Young people have an intense fear of missing out (FOMO), not being in the know or part of the ‘in group’… it has always been like this but before the internet, you had ’time off’ from this anxiety. You could go home and watch TV, talk on the phone and sleep without interruption. Now, with 24/7 connectivity with the internet right at their fingertips, some children are sleeping with their phones under their pillow so they get the instant gratification when the Snapchat or Instagram ‘Likes’ come in. They are digitally connected across multiple platforms, but have little connectivity, and felt connection to others. This is where the impact on mental health comes in.

So, what can we do? Well as parents we can set some family internet and social use guidelines. The American Academy of Paediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society have published guidelines and even a family media use template. Easy to read perhaps but hard to implement. First and foremost, is the need for dialogue with your children about your expectations and concerns. Then a contract on use at home and school. No phones in the bedroom or at meal times is an example of such a guideline that adults have to follow too!!

We are just beginning to fully understand the attraction of these and need to partner with our children to find ways to help them manage them effectively and in a healthy manner.