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Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C, DAPA

Keeping Children Away From Social Media Platforms

I want to acknowledge the recent decision made by Governor Ron DeSantis to sign a bill banning Florida residents under the age of 14 from owning a social media account and using Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Instagram.  Although it is unclear how the law will be enforced, I applaud the attempt to proactively protect kids from online predators, and to address the very real dramatic spike in mental health problems that social media platforms and their algorithms create and exacerbate.

According to Johnathan Haidt, “American teens spend an average of 7-9 hours a day on social media platforms, TikTok,Youtube, and Instagram.”

This move coincides with an important article written by Johnathan Haidt in a recent issue of The Atlantic where he describes, in detail, the incredible increase in depression, anxiety, loneliness, friendlessness, and suicide since the advent of smart phones and social media. We have reached a place where adolescents can spend “nearly every waking moment” engaged online, and on social media platforms. According to Haidt, the latest research says “American teens spend an average of 7-9 hours a day on social media platforms, Tik Tok, Youtube, and Instagram.”  And the number is higher in single-parent and low-income families.

I’ve been raising the alarm for a while now, and I know it can get annoying, and I know the genie is out of the bottle, but a developing adolescent brain is seriously negatively impacted by the posts, images and links on social media. It is an impressionable brain, wired for risk-taking, pleasure seeking, impulsivity and aggression and social media platforms can stoke those flames in dangerous ways.

I understand and respect the argument that for some kids, social media is a source of validation and connection when used in moderation, but the real problem is that it is not designed to be used in moderation, it is designed to create and fuel addiction. As mental health providers, I believe we have a responsibility to talk openly, without judgment or shaming, to our adolescent and adult clients about the impact that social media has on brain development, self-esteem, mental health, suicidal ideation, and attachment.

My three sons are all in their 30’s, so I didn’t have to deal with this as a parent, and I feel for parents who have to navigate it now. I know I may sound old fashioned, but trust me when I tell you that NOT having all the current technology and social media platforms was a true blessing.

- Kids and adults connected more with each other and with nature, and stayed engaged longer.

- We nurtured original and authentic creativity in our kids, and they mastered many cognitive and social skills through play.

- We all slept better, felt less overwhelmed, had fewer car accidents, made more eye contact, had more play dates, and quieter rest times.

- Our kids’ self-esteem was not measured by “likes,” and they were able to retain a degree of childhood innocence that protected them from anxiety and depression.

- They weren’t exposed to stimuli that their brains couldn’t process.

I wish young families today had the opportunity to experience the simplicity of that. Urge the parents you work with to “power down” often, to be more in charge of the way their kids engage in social media. Maybe even uphold the idea that social media doesn’t have to infiltrate the lives of their young children at all.

Book Recommendations:

Digital Madness: How Social Media Is Driving Our Mental Health Crisis–and How to Restore Our Sanity, by Nicholas Kardaras

The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World, by Max Fisher

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