Getting real about the dangers of social media and kids (2023)

Getting real about the dangers of social media and kids (1)

Editor's Note: This is part of a series about social media use and its effects on children.

Thoughts and attempts of suicide, self-mutilation, depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, a lack of motivation, shame, or being the giver or receiver of bullying.

It’s a tough world out there, and children are being subjected to these things more and more, especially when social media is involved, Daniel DePasquale says.

An unhealthy trend
"I'm seeing a lot of things that seem to track with a lot of the trends that have shown up in the research. So teenagers became daily users of social media, between about 2009 and 2012. And there's been a lot of research done since then, tracking different metrics of teen mental health. And what it shows pretty unequivocally is a significant increase in depression, mood disorders, anxiety, self-harm, and especially hospital visits, and ER visits for suicidality and self-harm. So that's obviously very concerning," he said.

"There’s a huge spike in 2012,"DePasquale said during an interview with The Batavian Thursday. "Their lives are very online. That’s not all bad; it does foster some connections, especially for districts in smaller, rural areas. Where it goes wrong are the amounts of time spent, more than two hours a day. Most of the kids I see here are spending significantly more than that. This is stunting, certainly,really important aspects of adolescent development, especially emotional development, and social development. There's a lot of that that really needs to happen in person. And these online platforms really don't, they don't replicate what that real-life interaction is."

DePasquale is a licensed social worker at Genesee County Mental Health Services in Batavia. He and colleagues Christine Faust, a licensed mental health counselor, and Deputy Mental Health Director Peter Mittiga shared their observations and experiences on why social media use reached the extent necessary to drive families to seek counseling.

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For one thing, online platforms don’t represent real life, DePasquale said. Yet, when other kids post tiny snippets of their lives, it appears as though that is their world, and it can create a false comparison.

“These are middle schools and high schools, these are where kids are kind of figuring out who they are, they're grappling with their identity for learning how to read other people's emotions, and learning how to resolve conflicts," he said. "And social media really does not provide a good healthy way to learn those things. Humans are wiredto compare ourselves. Kids are posting very selective parts of their lives … very curatedversions.”

Of course, that also happens amongst many adults, he said; however, kids are at an already “very fraught time in their lives” and don’t need the added pressure of having to live up to an unrealistic ideal on the Internet.

Kids are mostly gravitating towards Tik Tok and Snap Chat, while Facebook is less popular with the younger crowd, he said. Another “big issue” is cyberbullying. It has become bullying of a “very different quality than what happens in person,” DePasquale said. Once it becomes posted online for all to see, it makes it hard for kids to escape it, he said, even once they leave school and go home.

More than a fun distraction
Think social media is just an innocent extracurricular, maybe a time suck but an otherwise harmless distraction for kids? They’re being referred to therapy after being sent to the hospital for a “self-harming” incident. That could mean cutting themselves or something even more lethal. Or their issues may manifest as seemingly having no motivation to do anything and depression.

In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology in May 2022, Ethical Leadership Professor Jonathan Haidt reported that social media is a “substantial contributor to the crisis” of increased loneliness at schools in all regions of the world.

“Correlational studies consistently show a link between heavy social media use and mood disorders, but the size of the relationship is disputed,” Haidt said. “Nearly all studies find a correlation, and it is usually curvilinear. That is, moving from no social media use to one or two hours a day is often not associated with an increase in poor mental health, but as usage rises to three or four hours a day, the increases in mental illness often become quite sharp.”

DePasquale believes that two hours a day is the maximum goal for usage, and it’s what he recommends to families. Beyond the emotional and mental health aspects of social media are other measurable effects, he said, including the lessening of kids’ coping skills and quality of sleep.

Social media requires “a level of sustained attention, a lot of rapid switching from different things,” he said.

Learning mindfulness skills to become more aware of their own thoughts will requirenew learning, such as being able to put the phone down, he said. All of that social media scrolling encourages the opposite.

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"So they don't really facilitate, you know, the kind of sustained attention that you would need to, say, sit down and read a chapter of a book. And a lot of the skills that we want to teach our kids involve becoming aware of your thoughts, becoming aware of the negative thought patterns that tend to reinforce your depression or your anxiety," he said. "They also involve learning how to become more present, kind of mindfulness skills that we try to teach people,kids and adults, that also requires kind of a singular focus, being able to put the phone down, and become aware of your thoughts and feelings so that you can learn new ways of responding to them.

"And I'm finding it harder to teach some of those skills to kids, just because they don't have as much experience with that kind of sustained focus," he said.

Again, that addictive quality is not present just within the younger generation. Just look around, and there are many adults scrolling with their eyes fixed on the phone screen throughout the day and night. There is no actual addiction diagnosis for social media use, Mittiga said, but it certainly does have addictive properties.

Faust added that a committee in charge of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, more commonly known as the DSM-5, will be discussing potential additions, including gaming and social media addictions. The American Psychiatric Association writes, edits, reviews and publishes the book as necessary. It was first published in 1952 and has been revised seven times since.

What does it take to get into this manual? The general consensus, Faust said, is that something falls into the addiction category when it has a drastically negative impact on someone’s life.

Faust works with all ages and specializes in children ages three and older. Even at that tender age of pre-schoolers, devices become the norm, whether it’s by watching YouTube videos, playing games on a tablet or a phone, or using the program Roblox, which allows younger kids to play a variety of games, she said.

Elementary-aged children are into Tik Tok, because “it’s silly and fun,” and Faust knows of a fourth-grader who routinely posts videos of herself on the site. A fourth-grader. Unfortunately, she gets a lot of “bullying and shaming,” as a result, Faust said.

“There are supposed to be age restrictions on these platforms,” she said. “A lot of parents are just turning a blind eye to this, or they don’t think it’s really a problem. I think a lot of kids have free rein, or even parents try to restrict them. Kids find a way around it.”

One boy was being shamed on the school bus for not owning a phone, so he took one from home to save face.

The 'dark side' of social media use
“But the other part of it is that what I see is that it's taking this group of kids who are sort of at risk, who could kind of go either way, like, they could be healthy, or they could be drawn into, you know, more risky behaviors," she said. "So it's taking those kids that are kind of on the line, and drawing them to the, quote, unquote, dark side.”

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Sites like Snap Chat suck kids in like a magnet, and they get involved in group chats, teenage girls bully and shame others, and those victims are driven into serious depression, the ones “who would never think about suicide, start to contemplate suicide,” she said.

“When kids are stressed out, they’re turning to self-harm,” DePasquale said, as he and Faust filled in the lines for each other.

“And then, like Dan said, there's definitely an increase in visits to hospitalsfor kids who are suicidal. Or,self-harming, cutting, like it's become normalized ... when they're stressed out, and overwhelmed," Faust said.

"They're automatically thinking about suicide as a viable option,” he added.

Behaviors seem to focus more on cutting, and for girls, it can also go towards body image issues and disordered eating, Faust said, and not so much on alcohol or drug use in younger kids. DePasquale agreed that there has been a "significant shift" associated with social media use being connected to self-harm and suicidality versus substance abuse.

To the extent, they said, that "it's almost become normalized," Faust said.

"I hear kids that I work with talk about watching videos of people cutting themselves. Yeah. And posting it. They're cutting themselves and posting it," she said."Whether it's to get attention or a cry for help. But yeah, it's definitely creating this sort of culture that is desensitizing."

By now, The Batavian has spoken to several school counselors and administrators for their thoughts on this topic, and these licensed mental health professionals concur that there are problems attached to the heavy use of social media by children.

Shining some light on the subject
Some of those districts are infusing students and staff with encouragement to form committees and teams to extract the positive out of this situation and teach about/use social media for good and/or monitor its use to be at a healthy level.

Case in point: Just this week Byron-Bergen Elementary School announced that the Genesee Valley School Board Association awarded the district with the Excellence in Student Services Award for the 3rd Grade Digital Citizenship Program. This program, which is led by third-grade teacher Colleen Hardenbrook, is a year-long initiative to develop online and computer skills in the areas of digital citizenship, digital literacy, and keyboarding. All 59 third-grade students from three classrooms participate in the Digital Citizenship Program.

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Each class receives 40 to 80 minutes of Digital Citizenship per week. The curriculum is provided by Common Sense Media and focuses on safety, accountability, responsibility, and respectful use of digital media. This is broken down into themes, including media balance, privacy and security, digital footprint, relationships and communication, and media literacy.

The Batavian will be publishing stories on additional measures being taken by school districts in future articles of this series.

Imposing limits is not a bad thing
As for right now, DePasquale emphasized the time limitation to no more than two hours a day as a good rule of thumb. Faust also sees a real need for limits and boundaries, she said.

“Whatever form that comes in,” she said. “Social media is not going to go away. The trick is teaching parents about limiting what platforms they’re using. What kind of parental controls do they want to use on devices,” she said. “Parents weren’t prepared. We need to backtrack. Parents need to teach their kids at three what’s appropriate.”

DePasquale also suggests providing recommendations in layers, beginning with some fundamentals, such as using the settings in your child’s smartphone and defining a limit for only two hours of use, "right at the start."

“That also needs to be coupled with close monitoring,” he said. “And kids don’t get on social media until 16.”

Other suggestions? Parents, remove all screens from your child’s bedroom, take the phone away one hour before bedtime, and be prepared to have a list of replacement activities for that time you’ve now freed up for your child by limiting the phone.

“A lot of kids are struggling, they don’t have healthy limits. They are willing to backtrack, and are welcoming those boundaries,” Faust said. “And parents have to take more action. Some kids are learning what a good friend is, and self-esteem, confidence and getting involved in healthy activities.”

If you suspect your child is struggling with a mental health issue, check in with your school counselor or call Genesee County Mental Health Services at 585-344-1421.

For more information for parents and educators, read THIS from the Center for Humane Technology.

(Video) Social media and its effects on youth development and mental health

Top Photo Illustration. Stock photo.


What are the dangers of children on social media? ›

Social media can also pose risks. For your child, these risks include: being exposed to inappropriate or upsetting content, like mean aggressive, violent or sexual comments or images. uploading inappropriate content, like embarrassing or provocative photos or videos of themselves or others.

What are the main dangers of social media? ›

The risks you need to be aware of are:
  • cyberbullying (bullying using digital technology)
  • invasion of privacy.
  • identity theft.
  • your child seeing offensive images and messages.
  • the presence of strangers who may be there to 'groom' other members.

How do you teach kids about social media dangers? ›

How to Talk About Social Media
  1. Set the tone. Begin your talk in a calm, neutral way. ...
  2. Ask before you tell. Ask your child what apps or platforms they're using. ...
  3. Lead by example. ...
  4. Stay calm. ...
  5. Talk about permanence and privacy. ...
  6. Describe positive and negative online behavior.
Mar 4, 2021

Why children under 14 should not use social media? ›

All the trends, bullying, and false reality can make kids anxious easily, and even depressed. Kids still don't have a strong self-esteem and confidence and this is the main reason why kids shouldn't be allowed to use social sites.

What are 3 negatives of social media? ›

However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure.

What is the most harmful social media? ›

Instagram was found to have the most negative overall effect on young people's mental health. The popular photo sharing app negatively impacts body image and sleep, increases bullying and “FOMO” (fear of missing out), and leads to greater feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

What are 10 negative effects of social media? ›

10 Negative Effects of Social Media
  • Reduces Face-to-Face Interaction. ...
  • Increases Cravings for Attention. ...
  • Distracts From Life Goals. ...
  • Can Lead to a Higher Risk of Depression. ...
  • Relationships Are More Likely to Fail. ...
  • Stunts Creativity. ...
  • Encountering Cyberbullies. ...
  • Social Comparison Reduces Self-Esteem.
Nov 3, 2022

Why you should avoid social media? ›

A 2019 study found a positive relationship between social anxiety, loneliness, and social media addiction. Social media use can cause FOMO and a sense of inadequacy. This may lead to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Stepping away from social media may help reduce FOMO-induced anxiety and loneliness.

What happens if a child is exposed to social media? ›

We found that the effects range from spending increasing amounts of time online, behaviour change due to anticipated judgement from peers, and sensory overload, to more serious cognitive and emotional consequences such as attention problems, stress and anxiety.

How can we prevent children from negative media influence? ›

Make a family media use plan

It's smart to develop a customized media use plan for your children. This helps your kids avoid overusing media by balancing it with other healthy activities. A media plan should consider each child's age, health, personality and developmental stage.

How does social media affect mental health? ›

However, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Social media may promote negative experiences such as: Inadequacy about your life or appearance.

Should kids be allowed on social media? ›

Due to the various dangers and effects of social media, it is necessary that parents restrict their children from using social media until at least 13 years old. At that age, they may introduce those apps to their children so the process becomes more gradual and easier to monitor.

Should parents control their child's social media? ›

If you've got young children using the internet, parental controls of some sort are a necessity to ensure they are kept safe from threats online. These threats include predators, cybercriminals, cyberbullying and inappropriate content.

What are 5 cons of social media? ›

  • It can contribute to social isolation.
  • It can be used as an effective tool for bullying.
  • It is often used to snoop on others.
  • People who use it are more likely to social compare themselves to others.
  • Presents a false idea of “friendship”
  • Research has shown that it can increase feelings of depression and anxiety.
Mar 31, 2022

Which social media is hacked the most? ›

According to a 2021 online survey conducted in the United States, 32 percent of respondents said that Facebook was the most concerning social media platform with regards to their user profiles being hacked.

What can you replace social media with? ›

What to Do Instead of Being on Social Media
  • Create a vision board of all the things you want to call into your life.
  • Write or draw in a bullet journal.
  • Start a side hustle.
  • Learn a new language.
  • Find a new hobby.
  • Meditate.
  • Do a deep breathing exercise.
  • Sleep in.
Oct 6, 2022

Is social media too toxic? ›

Social media portrays a false sense of reality that detriments the mental health of heavy users. It has a record-breaking influence on the world, and is glamorized by users and influencers but has negative effects on mental health that can even turn fatal.

What are the negative effects of social media on the brain? ›

When people look online and see they're excluded from an activity, it can affect thoughts and feelings, and can affect them physically. A 2018 British study tied social media use to decreased, disrupted, and delayed sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss, and poor academic performance.

What effects do social media likes have on the brain? ›

“When we receive online 'likes,' the reward center of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, lights up. With excessive use, this type of interaction can train the brain to release rewarding chemicals such as dopamine much the same way that addiction works with things like drugs, shopping, and gambling,” he says.

Why deleting social media is good? ›

It can badly affect your mental health. People who use social media excessively are reported to experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and FOMO. It can give you low self-esteem.

How deleting social media changed my life? ›

Without social media, I engage in very little brain junk. My time is spent reading books, taking care of my body and life, building my blogging business, and attending loads of therapy. My headspace is filled only with knowledge and attitudes that make my life (and the world) a better place.

What happens when you stop social media? ›

“One is less likely to get FOMO anxiety, too, and leaving social media will allow you to cultivate better relationships with the people around you. It can also let you enjoy the things you have and instead of focusing on what you don't,” boosting your confidence and your overall sense of wellbeing.

Does the media affect children's behavior? ›

Media use also can expose kids to cyberbullying, which has been linked to depression and suicide. And media use can distract kids from important tasks, interfere with homework time, and hurt school performance. It can limit quality family time and make kids feel lonely or isolated.

How do I control my kids social media? ›

Get online family protection. Programs that provide parental controls can block websites, enforce time limits, monitor the websites your child visits, and their online conversations. Follow your child's online accounts, and tell them that you are monitoring their online activity to help keep them safe.

Does a child have a right to privacy? ›

No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation. 2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Can social media impact your child's mental health? ›

And this social media use is also linked to an increase in mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and suicidality. Social media's popularity among adolescents isn't surprising, since it has been shown to affect the reward centers that are so active in teen brains.

How does the Internet affect kids? ›

There have been some concerns about the negative impact of the Internet on children concerning violent and sexual content and a displacement effect in such areas as social relationships, including interaction with family and friends, physical activity and other leisure-time activities, such as reading and playing, and ...

What happens if kids spend too much time on social media? ›

If your child spends too much time on the Internet, compulsive behavior may develop. This can lead to an internet addiction, which just like any other type of addiction, can destroy a healthy balance of interests and activities in your teen's life.

How do I protect my child from online content? ›

Kids should talk with a trusted adult so they understand online risks, only chat with people they know, ensure their online accounts are private, block people they don't know or trust, and trust their instinct—if something makes them feel uncomfortable, tell a trusted adult about it.

How does social media affect self-esteem? ›

While social media is sometimes touted to combat loneliness, a significant body of research suggests it may have the opposite effect. By triggering comparison with others, it can raise doubts about self-worth, potentially leading to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Can social media cause anxiety? ›

Indeed, studies from the USA have found a robust association between intense social media use, fear of missing out and both depression and anxiety.

What causes social media addiction? ›

Amongst the most widely-recognised causes of addiction to social media are low self-esteem, personal dissatisfaction, depression and hyperactivity, and even lack of affection, a deficiency that adolescents frequently try to replace with the famous likes.

Should you read your child's texts? ›

Reading text messages can be a way to ensure your kids are making safe choices, and that you're aware of any possible issues they might be encountering, whether it's with friends or personally.

Is it OK to check your child's phone? ›

“Does your child's perceived right to privacy supersede their safety? It's 100 percent your right to check their devices,” said Bill Wiltse, President of Child Rescue Coalition. Child predators want to invade children's lives, an abuse that they may never recover from.

Why parents shouldn't monitor their children's social media? ›

The main reasons for not monitoring your teens social media activities are privacy and trust. Kids don't want their parents looking through personal information, texts, and social media posts. Many kids consider their smartphones sacred property not to be viewed by their parents.

What are the top 5 security threats of social media? ›

11 social media threats and scams to watch out for
  • Likejacking/clickjacking. ...
  • Fake giveaways. ...
  • Unbelievable news that's really malware. ...
  • Fake friends or followers. ...
  • Catfishing/dating scams. ...
  • Cyberbullying and abuse. ...
  • Fake apps loaded with viruses or real apps that will sell your data.

What are the dangers of social media child predator? ›

Social media sites with easy access for children, as well as predators, are creating a high risk for dangerous child sex crimes. Social media has increased incidents of child abductions, sex trafficking, pornography, and sexual assaults against children.

Why kids under 13 should not have social media? ›

Whether it's connecting with potentially dangerous strangers, the risk of pornographic content or other threats to young consumers, there is a reason that most social media apps require a minimum age of 13 for their users.

What are 3 things to be careful of when you are on social media? ›

10 ways to protect yourself on social media
  • Be aware of what's public. ...
  • Check your privacy settings. ...
  • Don't accept friend requests from strangers. ...
  • Be careful when you check-in or share your location. ...
  • Review your tags. ...
  • Don't share personal information online. ...
  • Don't share anything you don't want your grandma to see.
Nov 21, 2017

What is the number 1 social media privacy concern? ›

1. Data mining. Data is the bread and butter of social media platforms. They do everything based on your information – tailor their services, serve ads, analyze the market, build business models, etc.

Is social media a threat to privacy? ›

Threats to Privacy on Social Media

Following are typical social media threats. Everyone leaves a data trail behind on the internet. Every time someone creates a new social media account, they provide personal information that can include their name, birthdate, geographic location, and personal interests.

Why is social media becoming toxic? ›

One of the most toxic things about the influencing phenomenon is the way it distorts reality. It's only natural for people to want to present the best side of themselves, but influencers often filter their faces, use effects to change the shape of their bodies and portray a very lavish and luxurious lifestyle.

Is social media ruining children's lives? ›

In addition to problematic digital behaviors, there may be changes in children's daily behavior at home like: Increased irritability. Increased anxiety. Lack of self-esteem.

What are three examples of social media abuse? ›

Children and young people might experience different types of online abuse, such as:
  • cyberbullying.
  • emotional abuse.
  • grooming.
  • sexting.
  • sexual abuse.
  • sexual exploitation.

Should kids be allowed to be on social media? ›

The study revealed that kids tend to be more helpful after playing pro-social games. This is another reason why parents should allow their kids to use social media: children can become more compassionate and empathetic, and even feel like they have to protect their friends and share stuff with them.

What age should kids get a phone? ›

At what age should a kid get a phone? Experts suggest that you should wait to get your kid a smartphone until at least 8th grade. Along with age, a kid's social awareness, understanding of technology, and maturity should be considered.


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