Addressing the effects of social media on kids

It was hard enough for kids without social media. Many of our older readers will remember… We compared ourselves to others, but it happened mostly in-person at school or events, or when we consumed one-way media like TV or magazines. While it could be hurtful, we still got a break at home, while riding in a car, or for much of the rest of the day, as we didn’t have smartphones. We became the subject of gossip, but we had the benefit of an imperfect “grapevine” that took longer to spread information, and likely, we didn’t even always hear about it. And we played the popularity contest, but we could never be sure just who were the winners and losers.

We’ll dive into these issues in this post and you can learn more by watching a recording of our webinar, “Addressing the impacts of social media on kids,” here.

Kids’ self-image and social media

Social media makes it easy—and even entertaining—to endlessly scroll through the latest and greatest images of our friends, celebrities, and perfect strangers. We get to see the best of everyone all the time. If any one of our friends isn’t posting their best on any given day, we’re seeing someone else who is posting their best. This can put undue pressure on our kids to attain perfection, as they are developing their self-image and self-esteem.

For kids, and us all, there is tremendous value in limiting the time we spend on social media and understanding that what we see there isn’t usually the full picture. Social media can provide a great sense of connection with others, along with many other positive impacts, but life outside of it can be refreshing and cleansing when we focus on all that we have and want to do.

Social media and cyberbullying

It’s a lot easier to be mean to someone when you’re not doing it to their face. With social media, not only is it easy for a bully to target another child from behind the protection of their screen, but they can do so publicly for classmates and the world to see and weigh in with opinions, or even just a “like,” on the matter. This ruthlessness can be humiliating and overwhelming for the victim, and lead to serious mental health concerns.

As our kids’ gossip and squabbles naturally pervade and have the potential to be broadcasted instantaneously on social media for all to see, let’s talk to them about leaving the negativity off of social media and focusing on positive messages that will ultimately reflect better on us all. If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, find resources at https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/prevention and learn more in our webinar on May 11.

Our kids’ popularity, quantified

Our kids’ popularity is now quantified and displayed on social media. They have a number of followers, and every time they post, it’s assigned a number of likes and comments. Is this environment creating additional pressure for our kids to be liked and drive up their social stats at the risk of harming their mental health in the process?

While we can’t make a direct correlation with kids’ use of social media, we know the prevalence of depression among adolescents aged 12–17 has steadily increased–and more than doubled–from 8% in 2010 to 17% in 2020, and that certain demographic groups have been disproportionately affected, including girls, of which the prevalence of depression has increased from 11.9% in 2010 (4.4% among boys) to 25.2% in 2020 (9.2% among boys).[1]

We know our kids are much more than the number of likes they receive on a social media post. It’s important that we talk to our kids about what is really important and build up their self-worth through meaningful activities that stimulate their learning and interests, and help others.

On May 11 Magellan Healthcare hosted a webinar, “Addressing the effects of social media on kids,” for Mental Health Month with Magellan’s child psychiatrists, Dr. Keith Brown and Dr. LaShondra Washington, and Senior Director Children’s Healthcare Barbara Dunn, and Creator of Magellan Youth Leaders Inspiring Future Empowerment Greg Dicharry. Watch a recording of the webinar at https://www.magellanhealthcare.com/event/addressing-the-effects-of-social-media-on-kids/.


[1] SAMHSA 2020 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, Youth Mental Health Trend Tables

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