ParentsTogether, a community of more than 3 million parents across the US, surveyed more than 325 parents across the US about their children’s social media use and mental health. Overall, parents observed more poor mental health symptoms in kids who spent more time on social media.
“We asked parents about common mental health symptoms in teens, including anxiousness, mood swings, aggressive behavior, and feelings of worthlessness,” said the study authors. “The incidence rate of these symptoms universally increased as time spent on social media increased.”
Eight out of 10 parents said they believe their children’s mental health would improve if they spent less time on social media.
“YouTube (even with all the kids’ filters turned on) has a strongly negative effect on our children,” said Justin, a parent from Logan, Utah. “Their moods and their focus on schoolwork are both markedly damaged when they interface with YouTube. It has gotten so bad that we have looked into blocking the IP of YouTube from our house but couldn’t figure out how to do that only for select devices and some work/school-related items are hosted on the platform so we cannot blanket ban the site at the router.”
“All my 7 -year-old cares about at home is watching TV or playing video games,” said Kristina from Datil, New Mexico. “He rarely if ever has used imaginative play since ages 3-4.”
Parents who responded also said they felt social media has a negative effect on their kids’ body image. Parents whose kids use Instagram are 25 percent more likely to say they want to change their appearance than those who use other platforms.
“For us, we feel it was Instagram that had an extremely negative effect on our daughter,” said Jacque from Philadelphia. “The huge distraction from schoolwork was detrimental – her grades plummeted. We are older and not tech-savvy and she managed to get around everything we tried. The eruption/destruction of taking the phone (and for a time just an iPod and still a problem!) was costly. However, the worst thing was the images and stories she would see – of people and celebrities she did not even know. It totally warped her self-image. She went through days of not eating well or at all and then ate and (I have recently been told by her) purged. She was also distant and dangerously secretive at a level more than just teenage stuff.”
Seven out of 10 parents said they are concerned about their children being addicted to online platforms. And 2 out of 3 parents reported disagreements with their kids about how much time they spend on social media or gaming platforms.
“Instead of having time together as a family, my teenage daughters and son often go straight into their rooms and stay in there for hours to be on their phones,” said Emma from Hilo, Hawaii.
Parents also said they were unaware of their kids being contacted by strangers and even sexual predators. Parents feel social media companies need to do more to give them the tools to keep kids safe online.
“It feels daunting and very unsupportive as a parent trying to navigate this world with/for my kids,” said Juanita of Portland, Oregon. “They are seduced, and I become the enemy when I set boundaries. It’s too easy for big tech to grab their attention. They are so young and curious, and it just feels manipulative and greedy of the creators of this content. What a shame.”