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WATCH: How Social Media Platforms Impact Child and Youth Mental Health

As more and more reports emerge on how platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat deal with young users and how the content they consume affects their mental health, attention has also shifted. Focused on the role parents and caregivers play in keeping their children safe while engaging with the apps.

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What responsibility do businesses take to address these issues and what should parents and caregivers know about the impact that using these platforms can have on young children and adolescents?

Washington Post tech reporter Heather Kelly and Hartford HealthCare child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Paul Weigle joined PBS NewsHour’s Nicole Ellis on Friday, October 29 to answer viewers’ questions about what this means for our understanding of social media and its effects on children.

Watch the conversation in the player above.

Below are the highlights of the live chat.

The role of parental controls

Social media companies have indicated parental controls as a preventative measure. But experts say they’re not a foolproof solution.
Age is a key consideration, Weigle said.

“Parental controls are especially important for young children. To give them unlimited access to the Internet. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t useful. They just don’t replace other traditional forms of supervision, ”Weigle said.

But excessive vigilance and the use of parental controls can also be counterproductive, Kelly said.

“Children can explore their own sexuality or ask questions they don’t want to ask you. Even when using these tools, you have to take a step back and let them breathe a bit, ”Kelly said.

Why social networks reward “the most extreme ideas”

Social media sites, including Facebook, use algorithms to select which posts are seen by which people. These algorithms have come under intense scrutiny by experts and lawmakers for how they affect behavior and public discourse.

“There will always be people posting bad stuff and good stuff and the algorithms literally decide which of those things you watch,” Kelly said.

Kelly said social media companies such as Facebook have tried to reduce some “problematic content” in the algorithm. However, users are always rewarded for more engagement, including when it’s extreme.

“There’s also an incentive to get views, to get likes, comments and engagement and to be a creator and I think they’ve found that you can play some of these algorithms by being a lot more over- on it, having more extreme ideas, ”Kelly said.

Excessive reliance on social media has mental and physical consequences for children

Weigle says children have come to rely on greater use of social media during the COVID-19 pandemic because they spent more time at home and less time socializing in person.

Social media companies have indicated that parental controls are a preventative measure to protect children from potential harm from platforms. But experts say they’re not a foolproof solution.

“During the pandemic, we have seen a dramatically increased reliance on social media to meet the social needs of adolescents,” Weigle said.

But now, more and more information is being published about the physical and mental consequences of over reliance on mobile and social technologies, including neck pain, skyrocketing cases of depression and anxiety. severe social, according to Weigle.

He said the use of social media is a major contributor to “an epidemic of sleep problems and depression”.

“Increased reliance on social media is dangerous for the health of young people,” Weigle said. “It’s a terribly negative effect on their sleep and sleep is so important to the physical and mental health of young people.”
What can parents do?

Kelly, who frequently answers parents’ questions on the Washington Post’s tech help desk, says it’s always about getting to know your kids, interacting with them in the social media apps they use. and ask them questions.

“You can throw the tech at anything you want, but my biggest takeaway is talk to your kids. “

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