During the pandemic, children spent more time online than ever before. Moving school online and limiting in-person interaction with friends caused adolescents’ screen time to double in the year 2020. While these measures may have mitigated the spread of disease, they came with a whole host of side effects. Today, most teens feel “addicted” to their phones, and their parents agree.
Social Media Exposure: Increasing the Increase of Risk of Mental Health Issues
Since the pandemic, 63% of parents have seen their teens’ social media use increase. Unfortunately, teens who use social media excessively are at a higher risk for mental health issues. In large doses, social media can lower self esteem, diminish one’s body image, and increase feelings of isolation from others. What began as a platform to increase human connection can also distort it. Another problem with social media is cyberbullying, something 1 in 6 teens today have experienced. Online harassment goes beyond name calling; it can include stalking, physical threats, or unsolicited explicit messages as well.
On the subject of explicit images, accidental exposure to pornography is common on the internet. The average age at which children are exposed to pornography today is 11. Nearly half of teens say they unintentionally encounter porn once or twice a month! Early exposure is generally the result of an accident, but it can have long term consequences. Porn normalizes unsafe sexual behaviors, violence against women, and harmful racial stereotypes. Children who are exposed too young face increased odds of teen pregnancy, greater risk of depression, and lower self esteem.
The internet can be a dangerous place for children. It’s no wonder that 84% of parents are worried about their child’s online safety. In our modern world, it’s unreasonable to keep children off the grid entirely. How can parents make technology safer to use? The first step is to talk to your child. It’s never too late to have an open conversation about technology, and it’s important for your kid to know you support them. They should feel like they can come to you if they encounter something troubling.
In your conversation with your child, you should establish common sense ground rules surrounding technology use with them. Imposing a digital curfew on the entire family, for example, teaches good habits that children can carry throughout their lives. Blocking and reporting inappropriate behavior is easy, yet not everyone knows when or how to do it. Beyond these steps, parental controls can always be used.
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