Parenting: Setting online limits

Is your child spending too much time online?

If you’re looking for good reasons to limit the amount of time your kids spend on social media, we know of a few.

New research shows that teenagers who suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when it comes to social media, to the extent that they are checking out their accounts at night, are not only likely to be sleep-deprived, but they have a greater chance of suffering from depression and anxiety.

More than 460 students at a Scottish secondary school were questioned about their social media habits, in particular about their use at night of sites like Facebook and Twitter, as part of a study by Glasgow University.

The researchers found that children as young as 11 were using those sites frequently, often staying up until the early hours of the morning. Some even admitted using multiple devices – for example, a phone and a tablet – to view several sites at the same time.

The study participants were then asked to fill in a questionnaire about sleep quality, depression, anxiety and self-esteem.

The researchers found that while overall use of social media tends to affect the quality of sleep, teens who can’t help logging on at night are particularly affected. They also had lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression.

This follows on from other research that has found that teens who have an emotional investment in social media may have self-esteem issues, possibly because they spend a lot of time comparing themselves to others, and feeling that they’re not as attractive, interesting or popular. They can also feel their lives are more boring in contrast, which can lead to depression.

Meanwhile, another study has found that girls tend to seek comfort from social media when they are anxious and stressed. The British study found that girls are more likely to turn to Facebook than talk to their parents about their problems. They distract themselves from the pressure they are under by Snapchatting friends or posting messages or images. However, if this study is right, they are likely to end up even more anxious and worked up.

And there is more research that may just make you want to disconnect the Wi-Fi. Earlier this year, a Canadian study found that teens who use social media for more than two hours a day had an increased risk of mental health issues.There was a definite link between poor mental health (including suffering from depression) and heavy use of social media.

However, it isn’t clear whether social media contributed to poor mental health because teenagers were negatively affected by issues such as cyber-bullying or unrealistic body images, or whether adolescents already suffering with mental health issues were turning to social media as a way of coping when they were feeling isolated, alone and stressed.

The leader of that study suggested parents keep an eye on their children’s social media use and intervene if their kids appeared upset after using it, or seemed to treat it as a way of dealing with life’s problems.

Get NZ Woman’s Weekly home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.

Related stories