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Help Your Kids Use Social Media to Be Mentally Healthier and Happier

Science has learned some crazy things about raising kids to be successful. Like first names associated with success by leveraging other people’s biases. Or having them do chores. (A good work ethic is second only to love to help someone be happy and successful.)

A new scientific study out of the U.K. tackles the question from the other side. Mental health would seem a natural requirement for success. According to the Royal Society for Public Health, social media can be a big stumbling block. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can offer benefits, but on the whole, most studied had a net negative impact on the health and well-being of young people according to the researchers.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are steps that the platforms, schools, and parents can take to help make the experiences more positive.

The RSPH conducted a survey of 1,479 14- to 24-year-olds in the U.K. about their use of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube. The study examined 14 different factors:

  1. Awareness and understanding of other people’s health experiences
  2. Access to expert health information you know you can trust
  3. Emotional support (empathy and compassion from family and friends)
  4. Anxiety (feelings of worry, nervousness or unease)
  5. Depression (feeling extremely low and unhappy)
  6. Loneliness (feelings of being all on your own)
  7. Sleep (quality and amount of sleep)
  8. Self-expression (the expression of your feelings, thoughts or ideas)
  9. Self-identity (ability to define who you are)
  10. Body image (how you feel about how you look)
  11. Real world relationships (maintaining relationships with other people)
  12. Community building (feeling part of a community of like-minded people)
  13. Bullying (threatening or abusive behavior towards you)
  14. FoMO (Fear Of Missing Out – feeling you need to stay connected because you are worried things could be happening without you)

In general, the social platforms studied provided some significant benefits on the average, particularly in the areas of emotional support from others, awareness of others’ experiences, self-expression, self-identity, and community building. However, negatives often outweighed positives.

Of all the platforms, researchers found YouTube to be the only one with a slight net positive effect on kids. In descending order, the others were Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, which had the largest net negative effect.

The biggest single negative factor was too little sleep because young people stayed up late on social media. That can lead to a circle of being tired, having difficulty coping with life, developing low self-esteem, and then feelings of worry and stress that led to poor sleep.

Other significant issues were anxiety, depression, cyber bullying, pressure over body image, and the fear of missing out on what is happening.

The study authors suggested a number of steps that could help. Social platforms, for example, could try to highly or mark photos as having been digitally manipulated so kids wouldn’t take everything they saw as real. Schools and social agencies need to ensure that professionals have more training in digital media and its effects and also can also teach students how to use social media safely.

Parents also can take action. For example, have kids turn off their phones at a given hour and maybe even deposit them someplace until the next day so they’re not up late online. (And take the advice yourself to model good behavior.) Help kids learn how to handle cyberbullying and to avoid doing it themselves. Find out how to help girls grow up with a positive body image.

Social networks can be a wonderful tool, but they shouldn’t replace real life. Help younger people understand how to keep things in perspective, enjoy the positives, and avoid being washed away by the negatives.

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