2018-19 TOW #50: Social media

Social media is now at essentially ubiquitous levels of use among adults and adolescents. The new interns just discussed how to use it safely now that they are practicing doctors. Let’s review for youth as well.

Materials for this week:

Take-home points:

  1. How do we define social media? Social media can be defined as any online applications that allow for the creation and exchange of user-generated content. The collaborative approach is what separates “Web 1.0” functionality (i.e., static Internet pages) from “Web 2.0” where there is continuous modification and participation by users.
  2. How often are internet and social media used in children and adolescents? Even back in 2015, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 92% of teens went online daily. Nearly one quarter used the internet “almost constantly” via smartphones, with 73% of teens owning a mobile device and 91% using it to go online. We know the numbers have only increased! What I was surprised to learn is that even 50″% of 5 year olds and 70% of 8 year olds went online daily. By 4 years of age, nearly 75% of children had their own mobile device in a study of low-income urban minority children. A separate study found that by age 10, more than half of children had accessed an online social network site. We have truly entered a new digital age.
  3. What are some of the positives of social media use? (this is like an MI-style pro-con discussion!) There are 2 main categories: social connectedness and learning. Social media facilitates staying connected with friends and family, making new friends, and also creating social inclusion through community engagement. On the learning front, there are data that it helps with motivation to learn, and can be associated with higher test scores, especially for older youth. It also allows teens to access health information easily and anonymously. Additionally, it allows for self-expression, developing an individual identity, creativity, and exposure to ideas.
  4. What are some of the negatives? We now know there are quite a few: all of those positives seem to have their negative corollary. Risks of social media include cyberbullying, sexting, dissociating one’s online and offline life, and permanence of the digital footprint. Additional negative aspects include exposure to age-inappropriate and/or sexually explicit content, addiction to the Internet, and what’s been termed “Facebook depression”. By extension, these can negatively impact grades, relationships with family and friends, and physical and mental health (including sleep deprivation). Online exposure to alcohol and tobacco use, and sex is associated with earlier initiation of these high-risk behaviors.
  5. How can parents help youth navigate the Internet and social media? Parents should have open and honest discussions about Internet and social media use. Parents should evaluate sites their child wishes to participate in, discuss safe and appropriate usage, and routinely supervise and monitor usage. Though 94% of parents report ever talking with their teen about appropriate content to view and share online, only 40% do it frequently. At our house, our daughters need to use their devices in family areas (not in the bedroom). Even so, my daughter was trying to get on a Harry Potter website that required her to be 18 this weekend! It does take constant vigilance to be aware and support youth. The data are rapidly emerging on risks of depression with a lot of use. Adults need to model and encourage moderation. Avoid phone use during meals and before bed as a start. I like saying “the phone / device has it’s own bedtime and sleeping place.”

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