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July is Social Wellness Month, described as nurturing yourself and cultivating healthy relationships among family, friends, and co-workers. Did you know that 43% of Americans say they are more anxious than they were a year ago? Healthy connections will help. Remember, if you're in crisis, contact the 988 Lifeline immediately.

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The Troubling Impact of Social Media on Teens' Mental Well-Being

As parents, we all want what's best for our children. We strive to provide a nurturing environment, support their growth and development, and protect them from harm. But how many of us feel prepared to address the growing concern about the impact of social media on our kids' mental health?

Numerous studies have shown that excessive social media use can have detrimental effects on young people's psychological well-being. One such report is last year's Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescence, published by the American Psychological Association (download here). 

Admittedly, there are no easy answers. “The issues we face now with social media are similar to those we faced when television came out,” says Dr. Linda Mayes, chair of the Yale Child Study Center (YCSC). However, parents/guardians who are educated and familiar with the pros and cons of teen social media use are ahead of the game. Awareness is step one.

One of the primary cons is the way social media can fuel feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. When children and teenagers constantly see carefully curated images of their peers seemingly living picture-perfect lives, it can lead to a distorted sense of reality and the belief that they somehow don't measure up.

This social comparison trap can be profoundly damaging, contributing to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders in some cases. The need to constantly check for likes, comments, and shares on their posts can also become compulsive, interrupting healthy sleep patterns and face-to-face socializing. According to the APA, the adolescent/young adult brain is highly sensitive to social feedback because the brain isn't fully developed until the mid-20s.

Another troubling aspect of social media is the way it can expose young people to harmful and even dangerous content. From cyberbullying to graphic violence and self-harm, the internet can be a minefield for impressionable minds. Even well-intentioned kids may find themselves drawn into toxic online communities that promote unhealthy coping mechanisms or extremist ideologies.

Perhaps most concerning of all is the link between social media use and increased rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among youth. A 2019 study found that the risk of depression was nearly three times higher for adolescents who spent more than three hours a day on social media compared to those who used it for less than an hour.

As parents, it's crucial that we take an active role in monitoring and mediating our children's social media use. This might involve setting firm screen time limits, encouraging offline hobbies and activities, and having open conversations about the potential pitfalls of social media. It's also important to model healthy social media habits ourselves and to be attuned to any changes in our kids' mood or behavior that could signal an underlying mental health issue.

The American Academy of Pediatrics can help with "Kids & Screen Time: How to Use the 5 C's of Media Guidance."

By taking a proactive approach, we can help our children navigate the complex digital landscape and protect their fragile mental well-being. Remember: Awareness is the first step but Action must follow.