Risks and Reels: Social Media, Our Children, + Mental Health

Risks and Reels: Social Media, Our Children, + Mental Health

Do you use social media? If you have children, do they use social media? 

There is plenty of research suggesting that social media use may be putting 3 billion global users at serious risk for depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, bullying, low self esteem, body dissatisfaction, isolation, and even suicide.

Globally, there were 81 million reported mental health cases in 1990. In 2019, that number rose to 125 million… an increase of more than 30%. In 2001, the suicide rate was 10.7 for every 100,000 people, while in 2021 that number increased to 14.1.


See also Podcast 107: Sleep-Wrecked Kids with Sharon Moore

In This Article

The Surgeon General’s Take on Social Media

The US Surgeon General has reported that 95% of teenagers and 40% of children between 8-12 are using social media. Despite this widespread use, they report that they do not have enough evidence to determine whether social media use is safe.

The Surgeon General seems to have enough evidence that it is unsafe for young adults as seen in the Surgeon General’s Advisory, summarized here:

  1. Social media may perpetuate body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, social comparison, and low self-esteem, especially among adolescent girls.
  2. When asked about the impact of social media on their body image: 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse, 40% said it makes them feel neither better nor worse, and only 14% said it makes them feel better.
  3. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of adolescents are “often” or “sometimes” exposed to hate-based content.
  4. Some social media platforms show suicide- and self-harm-related content, including even live depictions of self-harm acts… content which, in certain tragic cases, has been linked to childhood deaths.
  5. On a typical weekday, nearly one-in-three adolescents report using screens (most commonly social media) until midnight or later.
  6.  Studies have shown a relationship between excessive social media use and poor sleep quality, reduced sleep duration, sleep difficulties, and depression among youth.
  7. One-third or more of girls aged 11-15 say they feel “addicted” to certain social media platforms and over half of teenagers report that it would be hard to give up social media.

There are multiple studies to back up the concern reported by our Surgeon General. A recent 2024 study measured the effect of social media on over 2,800 volunteers ages 10 to 24. Of this group, 77% of them reported trying to reduce their social media use for mental health reasons. The study found that 71% of  the group reports that social media negatively affected their sleep patterns. Overall, 37% of them reported that social media negatively affected their mental health.

In another study with over 300 participants, females between the ages of 25-34 were the most susceptible to mental health concerns from social media use. Tiktok was considered the most harmful, followed by YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat users (when compared to non-users).

Sleep Support

In addition to potential exposure to toxic content, the blue light of the physical LED screens can also disrupt sleep cycles. Proper sleep is a key component of good mental health, especially for growing children and teens. 

Blue light is part of the visual light spectrum found in sunlight. It’s absorbed by the circadian control center in the brain, called the superchiasmatic nuclei (SCN). The SCN regulates production of melatonin and the body’s biological clocks. Blue light literally blocks the SCN from stimulating the pineal gland and producing melatonin, which disrupts circadian rhythms. 

Proper sleep support, such as with LifeSpa’s Low-Dose Melatonin, can help mitigate the circadian impacts of late-night social media scrolling. Younger people need very little melatonin, so this low-dose formula is a great way to intake a the smallest amount possible (each drop is 0.3mg of melatonin).

Read my full article on the research behind blue light and circadian disruption here.

Technology & Kids

As part of research for my 2017 podcast, “Technology & Your Kids,” I interviewed my six kids on the topic during our family’s summer vacation.

The blog below was actually written by my then-14-year-old daughter, who had just finished middle school – the Wild West of smartphones! Her words are so sincere and insightful, I think you will find them extremely valuable.

First, let me summarize my interviews with my other five children. My then 29-, 27-, 25- and 21-year-olds had similar things to say. They grew up in a different technological era and, today, see technology as a tool that they use every day – much like a carpenter uses a hammer. They are aware of the risks and how it can be all-consuming, but they each have made non-computer activities a priority in their lives. Whether it be interactive games, hiking, camping – they all agree, it is all about balance.

Our phones are handheld supercomputers, meant to be tools to make our lives easier. My then 17-year-old boy is more connected to his phone as a social media tool than as a “tool of his trade.” His phone is often a distraction from what he knows he should be doing and, when I asked him if his phone has negatively affected his grades, he said, “I probably would have done better without social media, but it is all about learning how to balance it. It’s about maximizing the good and minimizing the bad.”

My then-17-year-old is very social with lots of friends. He has had a tight friend group since elementary school and they all stay connected through social media. He loves the way he can stay connected with so many friends from the past. For example, he has been attending summer camp for years and, this year attended an international art camp. He now has close friends all over the world. He says staying in touch with them would be impossible without social media.

He also said he sees lots of kids in school going right to their cell phones instead of being social. It’s a way to check out, withdraw and not have to socially interact.

My Experience with Social Media & Technology

by Gigi Douillard

My name is Gigi. I am 14 years old and I just finished middle school. This summer, I spent a month in Uganda. I was working with my sister who works for the Mwebaza Foundation, which partners elementary school kids in Colorado with elementary school kids in Uganda.

On the way to the airport, I realized that I forgot to bring my phone! This turned out to be a blessing in disguise…

When I arrived in Africa, I was so wrapped up in what I was seeing that I totally forgot about my phone. If I had my phone, I would’ve probably been taking videos of everything, Snapchatting or even playing games on the long car rides.

Instead, I found things to do every day that were exciting and I never thought about my phone.

I was shocked that the kids at the Mwebaza School were so happy. They didn’t just not have any technology, they had close to nothing… and they were some of the happiest people I have ever been with. They had no toys or computers, no TV, no games or technology of any kind. They just had each other. They made up games, things to do; they were creative and laughed, playing throughout the day. It seemed like that was what kids are supposed to be doing, just playing and having fun.

When they were in class, they were super focused and took learning as an incredible opportunity. They were so grateful for the opportunity to even have a school. In Uganda, the kids are not under law to go to school. Kids in Uganda are considered lucky if they have a school. It was clear to me how much they appreciated and were grateful for the school.

When I got back from Africa, I realized that school is not something any of us should take for granted. I will strive to make the most of my education from now on.

For them, an education beyond elementary school is rare, so they make the most of every moment when in school. In my middle school, most kids hate school (myself included) and complain every day that they have to go to school.

I don’t want you to think I’m judging anyone for using technology and social media – I am not. It is not all bad. It totally depends on how you are using it, and who you are communicating with while using it.

My experience has been negative mainly because of the negative environment that can exist in social media. What I mean by that is, let’s say someone was doing something really fun and I wasn’t invited – I would feel left out. I don’t like the negative energy that can come with that.

Social media has become a tool to make people feel good about themselves. Before my experience in Africa, I thought it was totally okay to post things on my Snapchat story every hour of every day. This brought me what I thought was happiness. Being “liked” meant feeling happy, and that meant I had to keep posting. It might not feel that way for some people, but it did make me feel that way.

I found myself feeling the need to constantly post, but was never really actually happy or satisfied. It was weird. I felt I needed to post things to be happy, but the more I posted, it really didn’t make me happy at all. I think a lot of kids are posting like crazy to be happier, but don’t realize that posting stuff doesn’t actually do that.

It took going to Africa to figure that out. There, I was able to really connect with people, and that made me happy in a way that I don’t remember ever experiencing in middle school.

It’s hard to balance the good and bad of social media, because there is both. Keeping in touch with positive people is really great, but the negative side can be really negative and can really hurt people.

Since I returned from Africa, I have completely changed the way I use my phone. I don’t Snapchat anymore. I tried starting a new Instagram account, but found it hard to keep that balance, so I haven’t been using it.

When I go online, I try to focus on things connected to my life goals. Lately, I have been studying acting and what it takes to become an actor. In the back of my mind, I have always wanted to become an actor, so that has been my focus when online.

I stopped using Facebook and Twitter, and pretty much backed off the social media. I might get back into it later in my life, but right now, I am focusing on becoming myself and being confident enough so that I know I won’t get lost again when I start high school.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to go to Africa and that I was able to gain this perspective. Being without social media while I was there really helped me. Hopefully, sharing my experience will help other kids get unstuck from the world of social media. Once again, there are really great parts of social media, but the bad parts seemed to slowly happen to me without me even realizing it.

I also realized that I was faking being perfect and looking perfect on social media, but I am not perfect. I think social media gave me the idea that everyone has to be perfect, and that’s not the case. No one is perfect. You can be beautiful on the outside and not be perfect, and that is something not taught in social media.

Social media, like Snapchat and Instagram, are mostly pictures showing bodies. They are not focused on what’s in your heart. What is in your heart is you, and your body is just what you look like. In social media, it is difficult to show your heart. Showing your heart by making strong connections with people is much easier to do in real life.

Learn more about the amazing work the Mwebaza Foundation is doing here!

Want Ayurvedic tips for your child’s health? Check out Dr. John’s book: Perfect Health For Kids.

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Gratefully,
Dr. John

1 thought on “Risks and Reels: Social Media, Our Children, + Mental Health”

  1. Excellent observations from your daughter. She has matured beyond her years. Most of social media has created narcissists. That’s a negative in and of itself. She has experienced the world, and has grown up a lot, because of it.

    Reply

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