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Protect your children from harmful content on social networks | Healthy food


Whether you call them iGen or Generation Z, today’s teens and young adults are more connected online than ever. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in social media use among teens – and we’ve also seen dramatic increases in rates of teen anxiety, depression and suicide over the same period. Why is this generation suffering so much? And what can parents do to help their teens develop healthy attitudes about using social media?

Why Social Media Can Challenge Teens

There are several factors at play with social media that can cause problems for teens. Research shows that teenage girls are more vulnerable to these factors than boys and tend to find themselves in cyberbullying situations more often.

1. Social media is an environment that promotes constant comparison with others. For teens with low self-esteem, comparing their everyday reality with the carefully selected “highlights” of celebrities and influencers can increase their dissatisfaction with their lives.

2. Teenagers have a deep need to belong. Social media can fuel fear of missing out (FOMO) or, even more hurtfully, a new concept, FOBLO: the fear of being left behind. Seeing image after image of your friends having a good time at a party you weren’t invited to can be very difficult.

With all of these external pressures and internal emotional turmoil, teens may be susceptible to seeing and being influenced by harmful content online.

What is “harmful content”?

Harmful content, also known as harmful content, is defined as any type of social media post that also exposes and encourages viewers to engage in a self-harm routine. Harmful content is not compatible with mental well-being and can aggravate mental illness. Examples include posts and videos highlighting symptoms related to mental health disorders in unhealthy ways, including promoting behaviors such as food restriction, binge eating, and purging, cutting, or other coping strategies. self-destructive adaptations. Harmful content can make these maladaptive coping strategies inviting.

It is important to know that no teenager starts by watching harmful content on TikTok or any other platform. Rather, they are gradually exposed, and because the platforms’ algorithms show you more of what you care about, that exposure leads to more exposures, accelerating the problem.

How can parents protect their children from harmful content online?

Here are three strategies and plenty of tips to help your kids navigate the world of social media safely.

1. Start with prevention

Start at an early age by limiting exposure, aiming for near-zero screen time in the preschool years and gradually increasing.

Monitor how your teen handles internet and social media use. What content does your teen follow? Don’t forget that there is also useful and healthy content on social networks: not everything is good or bad. Does your teenager evolve towards uncontrollable schedules? Is your teenager invested in the culture of comparison?

Establish ground rules for using social media, such as those recommended by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

1. Friend or follow your child on social media, reassure your child that interaction is not necessary and provide developmentally appropriate space.

2. No screens at the table – for everyone.

3. No screen after a while.

4. No social media during family time or after homework and extracurricular activities.

5. Disable all location services on the phone.

6. Parental control apps can be very helpful.

2. Express yourself

Follow the same social media rules you set for your teen.

If a problem develops, use the situation to start a conversation, rather than jumping straight to punishment.

3. Prepare your child for the road, not the road for your child

Despite your best intentions, you can’t watch your teen all the time (nor would you want to).

Instead of focusing on protecting them, focus on preparing them to use social media responsibly, including internet safety basics like not sharing private information online.

Give them the chance to make mistakes and come to you for help, so that when they turn 16 or 17, they know how to protect themselves and be responsible online.

Social media can be helpful if you have a mature teenager connecting with the right people and looking for the right things. The most important thing parents can do to help their teens navigate social media – or any challenge – is to invest energy every day in building an open and of honesty.

If you’re dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety, or chronic stress with your child or teen, a mental health professional can help you develop the tools to help. Sometimes you may need to talk to your primary care doctor first, then get a referral to a mental health professional, and other times you may be able to seek out a mental health professional directly.

Feyza Basoglu, MD, is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist. She works in the Inpatient Adolescent Mental Health Unit on the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus for Inova Behavioral Health Services.

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