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Why Doctors Are Concerned About Teen's Social Media Use

What is digital connectivity doing to kids’ emotions, brains, identity formation, and relationships? And is that connected to their physical health?

In the midst of technological and social media frenzy, we’re beginning as a culture to ask some good questions about the ways teenagers are developing as a result of hyper-connected lives. New phrases are popping up like “continuous partial attention,” the phenomenon that in our culture we are trained to focus rarely ever on one thing at a time, which is ultimately not good for us or anyone else (this is supported by research that busts the multitasking myth). Authors like Dalton Conley wonder aloud in this Time article, “Wired for Distraction: Kids and Social Media,” what is all this doing to our kids? And how can we as parents and those who care about kids respond?

Now the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that physicians discuss social media with teenagers during regular checkups. This stems out of a report released this week in Pediatrics entitled “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.” The report notes, “A large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.”

While some benefits of social media have been documented, these research tidbits should cause us to step back and evaluate its role in kids’ (and adults’) lives:

  • 1 in 5 teens logs onto a social media site more than 10 times a day.
  • 1 in 2 teens logs on more than once a day.
  • 3 of 4 teens own a cell phone, and 25% use them for social media.
  • 1 of 3 6th graders owns a smart phone.
  • 1 in 5 teens have texted or posted nude or seminude photos or videos of themselves.
  • Facebook depression” is a rising trend among social media-using teens. Adults are not immune.
  • 1 in 10 teens are awakened almost every night by a phone call, text, or e-mail, leading to sleep deprivation among kids. Sleep loss is also connected with higher drug use.

The AAP now suggests that doctors urge parents not only to become more educated about social media and its uses and risks but also to develop “family online-use plans” for online activity.  Specifically, families should hold “regular family meetings to discuss online topics and checks of privacy settings and online profiles for inappropriate posts.” And rather than just slap on a “net-nanny” software program, parents are encouraged to actively supervise and participate in their kids’ online life.

Following up on marriage and family therapist Rhett Smith’s suggestions last month in our E-Journal, adults need our own wake-up call for maintaining relational presence in a technological world. It needs to start with us, the adults who care for and support kids. I’m glad doctors are starting to speak out, but I wonder what other strategies we need to address the impact of social media on teenage development?