Social Media and Kids: 6 Tips for Curbing Isolation and Loneliness
By Ariane Robinson
Thanks to social media, video chatting, text messaging, and emails it’s easy to connect with friends and family. All-day long we text, post, and comment. Wouldn’t that mean that we are closer and more connected to others than ever before? According to recent research, this is not the case. In fact, the opposite is happening, we are feeling more isolated and alone. Studies show that rather than feeling connected by social media, young people who use it are actually more likely to feel socially isolated and lack a sense of belonging. (Pawlowski, 2018)
As parents, it is important that we teach our children the importance of face-to-face interaction and how to build healthy relationships beyond these screens. Otherwise, our children may end up experiencing the side effects of what some researchers have referred to as the “loneliness epidemic” (Pawlowski, 2018). While all of us may experience some feelings of loneliness in our lives, prolonged feelings of loneliness can become a real issue with serious side effects. These side effects are comparable to “smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day, obesity, physical inactivity, and air pollution” (Holt-Lunstad, 2010).
How can we be lonely, when we are literally in communication with people all day long? One explanation could be, that as humans we are social creatures who need to experience the real companionship of others. A screen cannot replace these interactions and experiences.
If you suspect your child may be experiencing loneliness because of to much social media, then it’s time to talk!
Here are six strategies to help:
1. Limit Alerts. Encourage your children to turn off the alerts on their phones. This will enable them to be present in the moment instead of constantly dividing their attention. It can be very hard to interact with people if you are constantly distracted by the alerts you are receiving, and what is happening on social media (Pawlowski, 2018). If someone is constantly checking their phone when you are having a conversation with them, it can make you feel like they are not that interested in what you have to say.
2. Limit Social Media Platforms. Studies have found that using more than two social media platforms can increase depression and anxiety. The reason for this is because we end up getting overwhelmed with all the posts and information, (Pawlowski, 2018) not to mention the amount of time it takes to be actively involved on numerous platforms.
3. Encourage More Face-to-Face Contact. Have your child visit friends from time to time, rather than just texting. Talk to them about the importance of making eye contact, smiling, and having a conversation (Pawlowski, 2018). You can be a great example for your child, by putting your phone down when they are talking to you, and making sure you are fully present in the moment.
4. Prohibit Social Media Before Bed. Using social media before bed has been shown to cause poor sleep. Encourage your child to have at least 30 minutes without their phone or device before bed, so their mind can wind down and prepare for sleep (Pawlowski, 2018). It may be helpful for your child to keep screens out of their bedroom, so they are not tempted to use them and disrupt their sleep. Loss of sleep can make us feel low, and slowly chip away at our feelings of happiness.
5. Set Time Limits for Social Media. It’s easy to get trapped into mindlessly scrolling on social media. Talk to your children about setting a specific limit on how much time they can spend on social media. (Pawlowski, 2018) It may also be helpful to sit down in your family and create a media plan for the whole family. Once again, parents need to set a good example for their children by adhering to limits and sticking to the plan established by the family.
6. Help Kids Avoid the Comparison Pitfall. On social media everyone’s lives seem so much better than our own. Help your kids understand that what we see on social media is not always an accurate reflection of what’s really going on in someone’s life. Our book Petra’s Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure, can be a great tool to help parents teach their children how to decipher the images seen on social media and other media sources.
As a parent, if you ever feel concerned that your child’s loneliness is not improving, or they are showing signs of depression, don’t hesitate to contact their doctor for help. In some cases, your doctor will refer you to a specialist who can provide them with the help they need.
For ideas on how to start the conversation check out our newest book Conversations with My Kids: 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age.
Ariane Robinson is the mother of five children. She is a Marriage and Family Studies Major and a certified facilitator with PREPARE/ENRICH, a program designed to help couples develop skills to improve their relationships. She enjoys working with families and helping to strengthen their relationships.
Andrews, C. (2018, May 22). Creating a Media Guideline for Your Family. Retrieved from https://educateempowerkids.org/creating-media-guideline-family-3/?nabe=6404814404845568:4,6655531510136832:0
King, K. (2018, May 14). Tick Tock Goes the Social Media Clock: Finding Balance Between Social Media and Family Time. Retrieved from https://educateempowerkids.org/5103-2/?nabe=6404814404845568:4,6655531510136832:0
Pawlowski, A. (2018, April 23). Feeling lonely? How to stop social media from making you feel isolated. Retrieved from https://www.today.com/health/how-stop-feeling-lonely-social-media-can-worsen-loneliness-t127466
Holt-Lunstad, J. (2018, January 02). Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors | Public Policy & Aging Report | Oxford Academic. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ppar/article/27/4/127/4782506
Van Orden, T., Alexander, D., & Melody, B. (2017, September 20). Suicide Prevention: Strengthening Our Kids to Handle Stress and THRIVE. Retrieved from https://educateempowerkids.org/suicide-prevention-strengthening-kids-handle-stress-thrive/?nabe=6404814404845568:4,6655531510136832:0