Getting a Grip on Social Media

You’ve probably seen headlines linking social media to depression, loneliness and other emotional problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics is- sued a clinical report urging pediatricians to counsel families about something they called “Facebook depression.” Despite the headlines, much of the early research about how social media impacts mental health has been contradictory.

Recent research indicates that what really matters is how people use social media. In general, people are happiest when they feel they can exert some control over what happens to them. People who stay focused on what they are able to do seem to fare better than those who become preoccupied with what others are doing. Understanding this principle can help parents make social media a more positive experience for ev- eryone in the family, including the grown-ups.

Here are some
guidelines to consider:

Lurk less. Several studies have concluded that peo- ple who simply scroll through information provided by others are more vulnerable to negative feelings including envy and loneliness. Catching up with friends may generate positive feelings, but avoid lingering too long over other people’s photos and status updates.

Make posts matter—to you.

Instead of using posts to provoke a response from others (something that is out of your hands), shift the emphasis and use social media to chronicle experiences and ideas that you want to remember.

Don’t believe everything you read.

Social media amplifies the very common adolescent anxiety that everyone else is having more fun. Of course, by now, everyone has gotten the same message: What you post online never really goes away. Because most people want to be remembered for the good things that happened in their lives, that’s what goes on display.

Disconnect when necessary.

Sometimes, in real life, people may have no choice about spending time with others who are unpleasant. Online, there’s more control and you’ll feel better if you use it. Unfriend people who are hostile or mean. Consider hiding posts from people who can’t help bragging about vacations, clothes, grades and good looks. Concentrate on input from people who make you think—or laugh.

We talked to ProMedica pediatrician, Dr. Jacob Maciejewski, about the effects of social media on children:
“Social media is something that’s un- avoidable in today’s society. Kids are not spending as much time with their families; they’re sitting at the dinner table with their cell phones instead of interacting or discussing things that are meaningful. Parents need to have a good conversa- tion with their children and explain the effects of social media and what their family’s values are so that when they see something inappropriate, they can talk about it. It’s very important that parents have access to their children’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Sexually-explicit content and cyber-bullying is a major concern because children are find avenues to bully and connect with people who they don’t even know.”

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs. She has been writing Growing Up Online for ten years and is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict. Visit www.growing-up-online.com to read other columns.