It can be hard for parents to keep up with their children’s social lives in the real world, let alone their countless accounts on the Internet. A new guide released by Legacy Health Endowment aims to help families ensure their Internet-savvy kids are safe while using popular cellphone applications like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, arming parents with tools to protect their children’s mental health when it comes to social media.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental health disorders are far more prevalent during adolescence. With 85 percent of teens using YouTube and 72 percent using Instagram, LHE President and CEO Jeffrey Lewis knew that the healthcare foundation had an opportunity to begin a discussion about mental health and social media. Thus, LHE created an educational tool called PARENTS – What You Wish You Knew: A Quick Guide to the Basics of Social Media (and the Potential Risks for Children and Teens).
“When talking to parents there was a consistent concern about how much time their children young and old were spending on social media. Sometimes writing, other times with headphones on — and often for hours,” Lewis said.
A natural listener by way of background, Lewis added, these conversations with parents came up so frequently that he began exploring the issue as a whole. What he found disturbed him: Parents weren’t monitoring what social media sites their children were using; many families did not enforce time requirements for social media use; and they often knew very little about the hundreds of smart phone apps out there. Social media platforms like Tinder, Snapchat, Tik Tok and more were foreign words to them, he discovered.
“Parents with busy lives simply trying to survive and keep a family intact were worried, but did not know what to do,” Lewis said. “Social media for them was like Mars.”
Through LHE’s social media guide, parents can now educate themselves in the comfort of their own home. The guide is easy to download and provides general information on each app, tips and clear instructions that parents can use to enhance the security of their children and teens. Families can also gain a better understanding of social media’s effect on their children’s mind.
“Here, we are deeply concerned about how social media impacts someone’s mental health and, in my case, particularly pre-teens and teenagers,” Lewis said. “How does social media impact girls starting in the fourth grade and beyond? How does it impact their vulnerabilities? Can it be used as a tool to hurt as much as it is used to inform, but inform about what or who?”
Lewis set out with a determination to create a guide in both English and Spanish that would help parents answer these questions, hiring college students Izzy Romeo and Conner Duyst to help conduct research on the various social media sites. Even they were surprised at what they found, Lewis said.
“They knew all about social media, but had not thought about the potential mental health impact. The more they dug into this, the greater their concerns — what could happen to a younger generation if LHE does not start educating adults?” Lewis said.
LHE took Romeo and Duyst’s research, added materials and employed the help of AC&C Marketing to bring it to life. The guide has received numerous endorsements from local professionals, including Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Scott Kuykendall, Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Dana Trevethan and Board Certified Pediatrician Dr. Sunita Saini, MD.
“As a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I recommend that parents and caregivers carefully review this document and develop their own family media plan for their children. Too much access to social media and media in general can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, communicate in person with others or even sleep. The idea is to balance media use, and for parents to understand the consequences of their inactions,” Dr. Saini said. “This social media guide will be a great resource for parents in helping understand how various social media outlets operate and the potential impact on their child’s behavioral health.”
It is Lewis’ hope that the guide not only reaches local families, but parents across the nation as well. Next, LHE plans to release a similar guide about online gaming.
“We have created a multi-faceted distribution system where we will reach people across America — from politicians to pastors to parents and more,” he said.
To download and view a free copy of LHE’s social media guide, visit legacyhealthendowment.org.