In this Social Media Day special, mental health expert Dr Rachna Khanna Singh expresses her serious concerns over social media addiction.
Teenagers are today spending excessive time on social media, which is adversely impacting their mental health.
Today, our lives have become predominantly online due to covid and its aftereffects, be it work, school, or catching up with friends. As teenagers spend majority of their time on social media, it results in them becoming more introverted and they begin to face difficulties in making friends and talking to people.
Teenagers are being guided by a virtual, fake world where there is an immense competition, comparative issues, financial hardships, and fleeting, multiple relationships.
Additionally, sedentary lifestyle has given rise to various addictions such as gaming, social media, pornography, or gambling addiction. The National Alliance on Mental Illness cites that one in five teenagers, aged 13-18, will have a mental illness, 11% of the population would suffer from a mood disorder like depression, or bipolar disorder and 8% would be diagnosed with an anxiety disorders like GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), panic disorder, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), or social anxiety disorder.
Children today are more concerned about their followers on social media rather than developing friendships in flesh and blood. This could negatively affect teenagers by distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and could expose them to bullying, rumour spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and immense peer pressure.
Behavioural changes like not spending enough time with friends and family, being aloof and low, spending more time on the phone and in the room, having a drastic change in academic results and seeing changes in mood and behaviour are concerning and should be looked into urgently.
Mental health and psychological issues being witnessed in children today are depression, anxiety, loneliness, ADHD ((attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), eating disorders, behavioural issues, parent-child bonding issues, identity crisis, peer pressure, relationship issues be it parent-child or amongst friends, sexual concerns, and abuse/violence. Most of these can be attributed to the growing use of social media in the daily lives of children/adolescents today. Furthermore, it also could lead to an identity crisis as there is a major tussle between virtual relationships and real relationships today.
For Parents, educating younger kids on the risks of social media is of paramount importance. Their device time must be restricted to maintain a healthy balance and certain sites and webpages should be filtered through site blockers for age-appropriate viewing. Parents could also utilize cyberbullying resources, could stay up to date on their child’s privacy settings and should set ground rules for social media use. It is also crucial to understand that communication is not built overnight. It must be developed slowly and gradually over a period of time. Gentle communication should be practiced through effective ways like engaging one’s child in routine conversations, be it about news or worldly affairs, information about relatives and family life, personal tales, etc. Moreover, having at least one family meal a deal would greatly complement this practice. Furthermore, restricting activity or movement will do you no good, until and unless it is for younger children.
Various studies from across the world clearly indicate a deep link between high levels of social media use and depression or anxiety symptoms. Multiple studies show that people who use social media excessively, do so because they are either bored, need an escape from their immediate physical environment, are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, are lonely, have few real-time friends or need to feel appreciated and validated. The use of social media by teenagers may sometimes turn into seeking validation for personal moments leaving adolescents develop mental health issues. It can also force different behavioral outcomes from teenagers as they might feel that parents are less present in the moment with them. Therefore, engaging in social media too much takes a toll on teenagers’ mental health as they themselves start to look for appreciation and validation from strangers.
Parents must actively work towards achieving a balance, which is the major concern! When the balance is lost, that’s when things start going downhill. The best way to keep it in check is to create and maintain trust. Trust is a two-way street and must be respected by both parties involved. One should understand early on that communication is key and forcing one’s child into anything will not yield any beneficial results. Listen to your children and try to understand them – the relationship with all its facets should be organic and natural, and this could easily be achieved by using methods of autonomy and responsibility for your children/adolescents.
As more children and teenagers are drawn towards cell phones and technology, it is in their best interest that parents take substantial interest in physical activities. Instead of just stopping children usage of technology, parents need to understand that they need to set examples by their own actions.
About the author:
Dr Rachna Khanna Singh is Consultant- Mental Health and Behavioural Science - at Artemis Hospital Gurugram. Artemis Hospitals, established in 2007 and spread across 9 acres, is a 400-plus-bed, state-of-the-art multi-specialty hospital. It is the first JCI and NABH accredited hospital in Gurugram.