Social Media is Hurting Our Children’s Mental Health

The internet and social media are an amazing technological advancement. We have the ability to know more about the world, and other points of view than ever before. Social media, like Instagram and Snapchat, have become an integral part of many people’s lives. Many young people, often called Digital Natives, have never known a world without constant connectivity to the internet and each other. While this presents great opportunities for learning and creativity, a growing body of evidence is raising concerns about the potential implications for our young people’s psycho/social health.

Teens spend up to nine hours a day on social platforms, while 30% of all time spent online is now devoted to social interaction. And the majority of that time is spent on a mobile device. Social media addiction is thought to affect around 5% of young people, with social media being described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.

According to a new report by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), a growing body of research suggests social media is contributing to mental-health problems such as anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, and body-image issues in young people. The survey, of nearly 1,500 people between the ages of 14-24, inquired how respondents felt about different social networks—Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter—affected their health, both positively and negatively. The survey asked them about their feelings of anxiety, connection to a community, sense of identity, sleep, body image, and more. The respondents say that the social media they spend the most time on, Instagram and Snapchat, are making them feel less secure, more anxious, and less happy about who they are and how they look. However, some social media, like YouTube, are closely associated with creativity and positives self-expression

Bring balance back to your home

1. Set Priorities

When your child gets home from school, set priorities on the tasks they need to get done first. This may include: homework, instrument practice, and possibly chores. These tasks must be completed first before entertainment screens (i.e., TV, Xbox, looking at Instagram, etc.) get turned on.

2. Set Limits

Setting limits on screen time maybe the most difficult thing parents have to contend with. Screen time is defined as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes. Other uses of media, such as online homework, don’t count as screen time.

How much screen time is too much? Today, in a world surrounded by digital media 24/7, defining screen time limits are difficult. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had once set a general screen time limit: no more than two hours in front of the TV for kids over age 2. In 2016, the AAP released new “updated screen time guidelines for parents in the, “Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report.” Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, lead author of the report said, “It doesn’t make sense to make a blanket statement [of two hours] of screen time anymore… For some children, two hours may be too much.” The academy recommends that for children 2 to 5 years of age, screen time should be limited to one hour per day. For kids ages 6 and older, parents can determine the restrictions for time spent using screens, as well as monitor the types of digital media their children use. Babies are most vulnerable to screens. Infants aged 18 months and younger should not be exposed to any digital media, the academy says.

Mobile apps like Parental Board by help define screen time by allowing a parent to lock the phone at specific times throughout the day, removing the child’s temptation to use it when they are not supposed to, like during school hours or before bedtime.

3. Family Dinner and Screen Free Zones

Establish and enforce screen free zones in your home. The dinner table is a great place to start when carving out screen free zones in your home. In fact, there is a lot of research to show that a screen free family dinner has amazing psychological benefits for your children. In a 2014 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, answered the question: Does family dinners have any impact on a child’s mental health or likelihood to be cyberbullied? Family dinners, by the way, are a sit-down meal with the entire family with no distractions (e.g., phones, TV, laptops, etc.). Frank Elgar, Ph.D., the lead researcher, discovered “More frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction.” The researchers found the same positive effects of family meal time on the mental health of the young subjects, regardless of gender, age, or regardless of whether or not they feel they can easily talk to their parents.

Shared family time, like family dinners, presents teaching opportunities for the parents — a time in which parents can model and educate on a variety of life skills such as coping and resiliency. The time together allows adolescents to express concerns and feel valued, all elements that are conducive to good mental health in adolescents.
How do you get the conversation going at the dinner table? You can find a treasure trove of family dinner conversation starters online with a simple search of: “family dinner questions.” I recommend going to The Family Dinner Project’s website ( and see all the great ideas they have to enhance your family dinner time.

4. Engage More

Sarah, a parent of a thirteen-year-old, sent me an email about her experience when she turned the screens off in her home for the first time. Her son James looked at her confused and asked, “What should I do?” She was shocked at the realization that her son did not know what to do in a world without screens. Sarah told me she was at a loss. She never remembered having to ask her parents what she should do to occupy herself. It was something she just did and was perfectly happy to do it.

It seems our “digital natives” are not as good as filling their non-structured time with physical activities as we were at their age. Today’s youth rely greatly on electronic devices to entertain them and consume their time. They may need a little help and direction. Obviously, the younger we start with our children doing this, the easier it will be.

5. Charge your teen’s mobile devices in your room at night.

When your children go to bed, take their mobile devices out of their rooms and charge them in your room. Electronic devices in a bedroom after lights out is a distraction from getting a good night’s sleep. Many teens have reported to me that merely having an electronic device in their bedroom, even one they know they should not use, causes anxiety. They know it’s there, and they are wondering what is going on. Remove the temptation and source of anxiety from their room. I recommend that parents not put TVs, computers, or game consoles in their children’s rooms either. I tell parents in my seminars: A bedroom is for quiet contemplation, a good book, and sleep – it should be a place where your child’s mind and body can relax and unwind.

The guidelines laid out here are not difficult to follow. They do however require intentionality. If this seems overwhelming, then take on the guidelines, one at a time. My recommendation, start with Family Dinner Time. Announce to the family that you are having “family dinner time.” Turn off the TV, leave the mobile devices in the other room, and come to the table ready to eat, look each other in the eye, and have a conversation. Make this an intentional act for every family meal, and you will see something amazing happen. Take on the rest of the guidelines in stride. Remember, this is for your child’s mental health. Nothing could be more important.

If you try these guidelines and see a difference in your family, please drop me an email and share your story, or post it on my Facebook page. I’d like to share them with others. I will remove your personal contact information to protect your identity.

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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.