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Screen scream – is social media causing our grandkids to disconnect?

Is social media as bad for the grandkids as we think it is? We take a look at the evidence.

There’s no doubt about it. Kids these days are glued to their devices and social media has increasingly become a normal part of their lives. We’ve all heard the horror stories of cyberbullying and body image issues that come with social media use, but is it really as bad as it seems?

Part of everyday life

Thirteen-year-old Sydney girl, Rhiannon Martin, shared insights about the role social media plays in her life with ABC Online News – and it’s very different from the world we grew up in.

"It's definitely become… part of my life. I go on it every day," Rhiannon says.

"I use Snapchat and TikTok, and sometimes I go on Facebook… that's where I communicate with my friends and family."

Rhiannon loves making her friends laugh with funny filters and the occasional TikTok dance video.

"It's just amazing… how people can create stuff," she says.

However, presenting a perfectly curated online image can be extremely anxiety-inducing.

"What people say and what people tell me [about] my looks are, for some reason, the most important thing," Rhiannon says.

"If someone said on social media that I was ugly or something, that would affect me really badly."

The pressure to be online all the time is also a challenge our grandkids are facing.

"Some days I'm just, like, really addicted to my phone," Rhiannon says.

"And I kind of want to be back when my mum and dad were kids, when they didn't have any technology."

The link between social media use and mental health

The proliferation of social media has coincided with a record increase in diagnosed anxiety and depression among young people over the last decade.

"There is an association with higher rates of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression in people who are excessively using a lot of these [platforms]," says child psychiatrist and researcher, Dr Philip Tam.

Dr Tam says the major drivers for this are social comparison – when you compare yourself with friends or even famous people – and the fear of missing out (also known as ‘FOMO’).

He also believes social media is changing the way young people develop their sense of identity.

"Their sense of self, rather than being grounded in their own… internal values, desires and wants, is actually created in a very real way by what the outside world thinks of them," he said.

"If young people are doing this too much, they actually develop a kind of negative sense of self."

Another issue Dr Tam regularly sees among his clients is social media addiction.

"Young people and indeed people of all ages can actually, in a material and clinically significant sense, become addicted."

Not all social media use has the same mental health impact

The real issue, Dr Tam says, is "how we use it and what we use it for".

He advocates for what he calls a "healthy digital diet", which includes more intentional social media use rather than mindless scrolling, and limiting screen time with more offline activities.

"I ask people to reflect on why they're using it, what are the reasons that they're using it," he says.

"And most importantly, balance it with real-world activities, such as actually meeting people face-to-face, getting out of your bedroom, or at least away from your screen."

How mindful use can maximise the mental health benefits of social media

Ashley de Silva, Chief Executive of youth mental health service ReachOut, says social media can be transformed into a positive thing for young people’s mental health, when used the right way.

Mr de Silva says ReachOut works with young people to help them "take steps that lead them into the positive sides of social media, rather than the other way around".

"Things like becoming mindful around how they feel when they're on social media.

"Is it something that leads them to feel better or are they starting to notice there are certain people or topics they follow that are actually starting to drag them down."

Young people are flipping social media's impact from negative to positive

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Melbourne teenager, Alexander Dalton, has managed to transform his experience of social media. Several years ago, he was experiencing anxiety and depression.

Isolated and struggling, Alex started engaging with social media content depicting self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Soon, that was all he was seeing.

"It was kind of like a little virus… you interact with a couple of self-harm orientated posts and it's just everywhere, it infects your whole feed," Alex says.

Alex ended that unhealthy relationship by deleting his accounts and starting afresh with completely new ones.

"[I] really focused on what I was interacting with and why and what I wanted to see more of," he says.

"I was interacting with positive mental health orientated posts…. and really saw how different my feed was."

For Rhiannon, spending quality time with friends and family and on her hobbies has helped her manage both her social media use and mental health.

"What I try and do… is try and stay off it for a good hour or two when I get home," she says.

"I love to read, I love to write, I love to draw… I do that to get away."

There are also times when she chooses to just log off, including on the weekends.

"I've also taken a break from social media for like a week or two and it did help me a lot," she said.

"It's not as important as it was before when I first started using it."

Source: ABC News

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