How are you reading this article right now? On your phone? Tablet? Likely because you came across this article on one of your social media feeds. As your life right now likely illustrates, access to screens and, subsequently, to social media has increased tremendously in recent years and is now nearly ubiquitous. Accordingly, children are growing up immersed in a culture in which social connection, information and entertainment are available at one’s fingertips. There are many positive aspects to the level of connection and access technology and social media afford children, including opportunities to easily connect with friends and learn and expand their awareness and horizons beyond their local environment. But like with any activity, there can be negative components of children’s access to social media and screens–particularly when they are overused. What We Know (Or Rather What We Don’t!) While it is understandable that many parents are worried about the impact of social media on their children, it is also important to be a cautious and critical consumer of dramatic headlines about the impacts of social media. At present, there is still fairly limited research on the impact of social media usage on children. Additionally, many of the studies that have been conducted are “correlational” in nature, meaning while the study tells us that two things (such as social media use and anxiety) appear to be related, it cannot tell us the “direction” of that relationship, or which one causes the other. For example, a number of studies have found that high Facebook use is correlated with symptoms of depression; therefore, while using Facebook could lead someone to feel more sad, it could also be that individuals who are already somewhat depressed spend more time isolated and using social media, rather than going out and engaging with others. One increasingly studied area is the potential relationship between heavy social media use and anxiety. Though there is still no conclusive evidence, researchers and clinicians have proposed that anxiety and heavy social media use may have a reciprocal relationship. Specifically, children and teens more prone to social anxiety may use social media in part to avoid the potentially challenging or awkward moments that can come up in face to face interactions with peers. In the short run, this is an effective way to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions, however, in the long run, these children and teens are deprived of the opportunity to learn to navigate challenging social situations. They also do not get the chance to learn how to cope with the uncomfortable emotions that may result from challenging interactions such as anxiety or shame. Over time, this lack of practice may lead to deficits both in social skills and emotion regulation abilities, which could, in turn, cause the child to further avoid real life social interactions. Healthy Social Media Use Monitoring a child’s social media usage is a new parenting challenge. Luckily, the principles behind teaching your child how to responsibly use and engage withRead More
About Julia Martin BurchJulia Martin Burch, PhD is a staff psychologist at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program at McLean Hospital in Boston. Dr. Martin Burch completed her training at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School.She works with children, teens, and parents and specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, obsessive compulsive, and related disorders. Outside of her work at McLean, Dr. Martin Burch gives talks to clinicians, parent groups, and schools on working with anxious youth.
Think of the last time you felt anxious. Whether you were dreading an upcoming work presentation, worrying about finances, or thinking about an impending doctor’s appointment, you likely experienced an urge to avoid the stressor in some way, perhaps by procrastinating, thinking about something else, or putting off the appointment. Avoiding anxiety provoking situations is a hard-wired human instinct that can be very helpful at times, such as keeping us from walking down an isolated dark alley alone at night. However, avoidance can also be a slippery slope-particularly when it is a child’s primary way of coping with worry.Read More
It is typical for kids to have worries and to ask their parents questions about those worries. For example, it is not uncommon for a child to worry about a natural disaster befalling their town after learning about one on the news. It’s also typical and appropriate for a child to then ask their parents about the likelihood of a similar disaster occurring in their own hometown. However, some children are not satisfied by having their question answered once or twice.Read More