Teens’ social media use is up during pandemic, and so is their parents’ concerns

Medical Watch

Parents weigh in on their kids and social media. Turns out, there’s widespread worry.

That’s according to new survey results from Lurie Children’s Hospital. With remote learning and social distancing in place during the pandemic, social media use is up. That’s no surprise, but some of the statistics are.

Claire Coyne, Phd is a pediatric psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital and was involved in the survey.

“Social media and digital technologies allow young people to be connected with peers who may not be attending the same school or living in their community,” she said. “(Social media has them) connecting with family and really being able to engage in activities that are fun and entertaining for them. I think there are a lot of positives. … Drawbacks come into place when we think about social media or digital tech contributing to a person feeling sad or down or doing a lot of social comparison.”

Taking a deeper look at the impact of all that screen time, researchers at Lurie Children’s Hospital polled more than 2900 parents. More than half said they believe social media has a negative impact on their children.

“My big effort when I talk to parents and families is for parents to think about how they can help their teens build the capacity to use social media safely and effectively,” Coyne said. “That means having conversations with your children about: ‘Which apps are you on? How are you using those apps?’ Being honest about concerns or fears you may have and setting some guidelines and boundaries for what is appropriate and acceptable.”

The survey was conducted between March and June of 2020.

  • 68% of parents responded they believe social media affects their teen’s ability to socialize normally
  • 56% believe their teen has an unhealthy desire for attention or approval via social media
  • 67% of parents have felt their teen is addicted to social media.

“The things we want to aware of are when young people maybe seem overly preoccupied with social media and feel like they are not doing the other things we want them to be doing and we see a change in mood change in affect change in typical behaviors,” Coyne said.

When asked to categorize their teen’s inappropriate behavior on social media:

  • 51% said it was too sexual in nature  
  • 25% cited bullying
  • 24% cited hate speech.

“Parents also need to think about what they are modeling for young people in their home,” Coyne said. “How do we use our own phones? How do we use our own social media?”

Respondents had a laundry list of other concerns for their kids including not getting enough sleep or physical activity, lack of focus on schoolwork, not enough face-to-face interaction and oversharing.

Which platforms worry parents the most? Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Facebook topped the list.

“Definitely set limits on your children depending on where they developmentally are in terms of what they’re looking at and what they are seeing,” Coyne said. “But also developing those skills for your child to be able to say, ‘I get that what I’m seeing may not be real and I understand how I might feel after I look at something like this.’ To be able to see that connection and understand how social media can impact their mood in good ways or also maybe make them feel not so good so they can be aware.”

While parents are taking action, 80% said they’ve set rules around phone and social media use and 43 % have used an app to monitor or restrict device and internet use. Some teens, however, are taking a step back on their own.

“One of the things anecdotally, as parents have maybe shifted their controls on social media during the pandemic, kids are starting to develop the capacity to self-regulate,” Coyne said. “So maybe taking that step on their own and not spending as much time online, so I would encourage parents to pay attention to that.”

Coyne said keep the conversation going and monitor your teen’s mood. It’s critical in helping kids develop good habits and safety when it comes to social media.

To read the survey results, check out:

Dr Coyne recommends: “Devorah Heitner’s Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World”

If you would like to contact a social worker, psychologist or child life specialist for information on community referrals or coping resources, you can call 312-227-4118 and leave a message. Your call will be returned within 24 hours, Monday through Friday. Non-urgent questions only. For emergencies, call 911.

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