US: Excessive Social Media Use Is No. 1 Concern for Parents as Kids Head Back to School: New Poll


An increasing number of parents have expressed concern over their children’s digital habits as their kids return to the classroom, findings from a new poll show.

Two-thirds of parents surveyed say overall screen time, followed by social media overuse and internet safety, are major concerns, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

“Children are using digital devices and social media at younger ages, and parents may struggle with how to appropriately monitor use to prevent negative impacts on safety, self-esteem, social connections, and habits that may interfere with sleep and other areas of health,” said Mott Poll co-director and Mott pediatrician Dr. Susan Woolford in a news release.

Harmful Effects of Social Media

Findings from the poll, based on a nationally representative sample of over 2,000 respondents, also reveal that 50 percent of parents are concerned about mental health problems such as depression, suicide, stress, and anxiety associated with excessive screen use.

Social media platforms include Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and Facebook.

Findings from a 2019 study published in JAMA Psychiatry showed preteens and teens who spent more than three hours per day on social media had a 60 percent higher risk of developing mental health problems. Separate research shows unhealthy scrolling is a significant source of distraction that can lead to addiction, which then adversely impacts academic performance and fuels unrealistic expectations when kids compare themselves to popular, self-declared influencers.

According to an official blog by the National Eating Disorder Association, social media platforms are linked to a fixation on appearance, pressure to be muscular, and reduced body satisfaction. Social media also sets students up for cyberbullying. Fifty-nine percent of teens in the United States say they’ve been bullied or harassed online.

What to Do

The back-to-school months are an excellent time to reinstate expectations and set limits that may have been lifted during the summer months.

It is typical for parents to relax those rules during the summer, but once school starts, parents and children need to have a conversation about limits on social media and screen time by setting up agreed-upon rules,” Dr. Michelle Escovedo, an adolescent medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s in Los Angeles, said in a recent virtual community conversation about the back-to-school season.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends the following strategies to keep kids safe:

1. Limit Screen Time

Limit social media by utilizing available screen time settings so kids and teens learn self-control. Lack of self-control can lead to addiction. Brain specialists have shown that acquiring likes, engaging with people, and temporarily escaping reality trigger the brain’s reward system by releasing dopamine, the same neurotransmitter released with other addictions like eating and gambling.

2019 data from the research firm Statista show that 40 percent of U.S. online users aged 18 to 22 reported feeling addicted to social media, with 5 percent of respondents describing themselves as being “completely” addicted.

2. Ensure Kids Get Enough Sleep

Prohibit screen time that interferes with at least eight hours of sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a lack of z’s impairs a child’s neurodevelopment, increases impulsivity, and leads to aggressive behavior and thinking problems. Insufficient sleep is also associated with an increased risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

3. Watch for Concerning Behavior

Be on the lookout for behaviors that escalate to the point where:

  • They interfere with the child’s daily routines and commitments, such as school, work, friendships, and extracurricular activities.
  • The child often chooses social media over in-person social interactions.
  • The child cannot get at least eight hours of quality sleep each night.
  • The child is prevented from engaging in regular physical activity.
  • The child uses social media even when they express a desire to stop.
  • The child experiences strong cravings to check social media.
  • The child lies or uses deceptive behavior to spend time online.

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