It’s not surprising to walk through the hallways of a high school or middle school and see almost every student glued to their phone. While the internet is now essential to the lives of adolescents, there also can be negative impacts when it comes to their engagement with social media.
Dr. Ruth Buzi, associate professor and director of social services with the Teen Health Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine, says studies show that more than 90% of adolescents 12 to 17 years old are using social networks on a daily basis. Excessive use of social media among teens has been associated with various mental health issues, such as depression, loneliness, poor self-esteem and anxiety.
“It’s clear that social media has a major role in the mental health of young people,” she said. “It also can lead to more detrimental outcomes like cyberbullying and suicide.”
To address the potential harmful effects of social media, Buzi shares these tips for responsible engagement.
Start conversations early
Because teens have access to cell phones at a young age, Buzi encourages parents to begin conversations early about how to use their social media and phones. It’s essential for teens to understand what is appropriate to share on the internet, and that there can be serious consequences to sharing certain information.
“Encourage teens to avoid social media sites and apps that can track them or encourage them to engage in risky behaviors. Once they upload information online, it will be there forever and can affect their future education and employment opportunities.”
Know the risks
Parents should spend time talking with their teens about what apps they are using and the potential risks. “There is a current issue with sexting and Snapchat – it’s known that this can have legal ramifications, but kids don’t understand that,” Buzi said. “Educate young people about the consequences of behaviors such as cyberbullying and sexting, and be very open in conversations with them.”
Understand school policies
Schools also play a role in educating adolescents on how to remain safe while using the internet.
“Students bring phones to school, so what policies do schools have about restricting use of phones during school hours?” Buzi said. “Schools also should have clear guidance on how to restrict use and how to have a conversation with students about the associated risks.”
Despite the potential risks, engagement with social media can be positive. It allows teens to stay connected with friends and offers a more convenient way to seek health-related information.
For example, the Teen Health Clinic at Baylor offers a health app, Hi52hlth, which puts healthcare information and resources at the fingertips of teens and young adults.
“It’s a great way to communicate with kids who are more comfortable with using social media, but it’s also important to continue educating them about how they can be more careful.”
-By Kaylee Dusang
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