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Alarming Report: Kids Who Spend Just 1 Hour a Day on Social Media Are Less Happy

Kids using social media is fairly inevitable but even just one hour online can make kids less content with their lives.

Social Media Unhappy Hour Ottochka/Shutterstock
Just last night I was chatting with my babysitter about how much more complicated life is today for teenagers, with the prevalence of social media. When I was in high school and college, there was no way for my peers to post unsolicited photos of me online, no means for anyone to be bullied in such a permanent and public way. I can't help but worry about my young children's futures and how social media will impact them, if it is already such a force for today's teens.

New research adds fuel to the fire of my concerns, finding that when kids between the ages of 10 and 15 spend just one hour a day on social media, they are more unhappy. The report, "Social Media Use and Children's Wellbeing," published by IZA Institute of Labor Economics, looked at the effects of being online on kids in Britain from 2010 through 2014.

"Spending one hour a day chatting on social networks reduces the probability of being completely satisfied with life overall by approximately 14 percentage points," the study's authors say. They surmise cyberbullying, an increase in comparisons, and a decrease in real-life, face-to-face activities are the likely culprits for why kids' well-being is adversely affected by the likes of Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.

Of course, this finding is especially troubling given how much time kids spend online and the inevitability of social media being part of their lives, for the good and the bad. So what is a parent to do to keep their kids from suffering in an increasingly social media-based world?

We reached out to Rebecca Baum, M.D., Chief of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, to get some tips.

1. Time

  • Set guidelines for social media use (and in fact for the use of all electronics) and keep track.
  • Be a good role model and watch how much time you spend on social media.
  • Make screen-free times (overnight) or zones (kitchen table or bedroom).

2. Content

  • Talk with kids about the information they’re posting and viewing to help them understand what’s appropriate for different privacy settings.
  • Kids may think about information they post or text as private, something you might whisper to a friend. However, information can spread incredibly quickly on social media, and not everyone keeps things “private,” even when asked. 

3. Conversation

  • Explain why it’s important for you as a parent to pay attention to their media use.
  • Set clear ground rules for safe and responsible use.  Make sure the rules are clear to everyone, and talk through questions that come up.
  • While privacy is increasingly important to older teens, let all kids know that you will need to be more intrusive if you have concerns about their safety.
  • Ask questions if things don’t seem right (e.g., “you looked kind of sad after you got that text. Is everything OK?”)

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.

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