By Erika Taylor
The Surgeon General has nothing on fifth-graders at Brown International Academy, a northwest Denver public school, when it comes to educating our communities.
Brown students Elizabeth Dolegowski and Mara Persaud have been studying the impacts of social media on young people for months and presented their findings in May at the school’s annual Fifth Grade Exhibition, a capstone project designed to give kids experience researching, connecting and taking action on a topic affecting the community.
Recently, The New York Times published a report by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in which he warns that social media presents a “profound risk of harm” to the mental health of children because of the ways their brains are affected, exacerbated by the amount of time they spend using it.
“Teens who use social media for more than three hours a day face double the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms, which is particularly concerning given that the average amount of time that kids use social media is three-and-a-half hours a day,” according to Murthy’s report cited by the Times.
This is the same data the girls gathered from a recent Pew Research study and shared with the community in their presentation. Their project included an interactive opportunity to explore the feelings social media can inspire we may not even notice.
The students produced artwork and two print fliers that included ideas to stay safe on social media as well as a step-by-step guide to assuring your accounts are private, which were displayed at school to encourage dialogue among students and the community. Dolegowski and Persaud don’t want you to think the news is all bad!
“Social media can affect you in many different ways. Some of those are good and some are not so great. You can stay connected to others and keep in touch with old friends, but it can also be a place to get cyber bullied and body shamed,” they said.
The duo cited an article by the Mayo Clinic pointing out that social media allows children to build social networks, which can provide valuable support, especially for those who experience exclusion or have different abilities that make it difficult to participate in school or other activities that might otherwise provide these interactions.
Kids also use social media for entertainment and self-expression, for keeping up with current events, interacting across geographic barriers and learning about a variety of subjects, including healthy behaviors of which they might not otherwise be exposed.
As many of us experienced during the COVID shutdown, connecting to friends and extended family living far away is a decided benefit to humans of all ages but especially in intergenerational relationships. However, social media use can also negatively affect kids.
Distraction, sleep disruption, bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure are all amplified on social media. As mentioned in Dolegowski’s and Persaud’s research as well as the many studies cited by Murthy, links between high levels of social media use and depression or anxiety symptoms are tough to dispute.
So, if you want to reap the benefits of social media while mitigating the risks to your health, what can you do? Dolegowski and Persaud have some answers! Limit your time. Keep your information private. Talk to kids about social media. Talk about your own social media habits.
Ask your child how he or she is using social media and how it makes him or her feel. Then listen to their answers! Remind your child that social media is full of unrealistic images and that it is safe to tell you if they experience bullying or threats of any kind.
If you think your child is experiencing signs or symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to a healthcare provider. And remember, the best way to help your child manage life with social media is to keep the lines of communication open! Spend time off line with them; that will force you to put your phone down too! And IRL (in real life!) face time with the kids in your life is a health win for everyone.
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email erika@ tayloredfitness.com.