Although Legacy Health Endowment first released its social media guide for parents over a year ago, the need for families to understand technology continues as the pandemic wears on.
LHE, a nonprofit healthcare grantmaking foundation, originally produced and promoted the app roadmap titled “PARENTS – What You Wish You Knew: A Quick Guide to the Basics of Social Media (and the Potential Risks for Children and Teens)” in October 2019. The guide was well-received and provided families with statistics, instructions and solutions which ensured their Internet-savvy kids are safe while using popular cell phone apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
It was LHE president and CEO Jeffrey Lewis’ hope that in creating the guide, parents would be armed with the tools to protect their children’s mental health when it comes to social media.
An updated version of the guide was released by LHE this month, providing new information for these fast-changing times. As the pandemic keeps children and teens from socializing in person, Lewis believes the guide can be even more helpful now as kids seem to be glued to devices day in and day out.
“It’s even more important now to remind parents the guide is available,” Lewis said, noting that between Zoom calls for school and communicating with friends via the internet, students are experiencing “screen fatigue” and thus, their mental health is suffering.
“There are a lot of teens who are all ‘A’ students, but I suspect if you were to talk to their superintendents and principals, those A’s may have disappeared because the anxiety and depression from distance learning has caught up to them.”
Included in the updated social media guide are statistics, like data from the first quarter of 2020 which shows 2.6 billion users currently on Facebook. Of those users, 5.6 percent, or nearly 146 million, are 13 to 17 years old. The updated information also provides a summary on Zoom, the video conferencing app, and offers parents online safety management tools like parental control phone trackers and instructions on how to limit screen time.
Original data in the guide which was also provided in the original includes some shocking data, like the fact that half of lifetime mental illnesses begin in individuals 14 years and older. In addition, one in six youth aged six to 17 in the United States experience a mental health disorder every year, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those 10 to 34 years old.
Just a few years after smartphones — and social media — were introduced in 2007, high levels of depressive symptoms increased by 33 percent in 8th through 12 graders from 2010 to 2015. During that same time, the suicide rate for girls in this age group increased by 65 percent. By 2015, 92 percent of teens and young adults owned a smartphone.
These already-alarming statistics coupled with the increasing use of devices and apps as the pandemic wears on are having a devastating effect on students’ mental health, Lewis said.
“We know that there’s data from before COVID which shows there were a lot of kids in the area who contemplated suicide and that ideology was very much a part of their life,” he said. “The one thing COVID data isn’t sharing at this point is how many lives have been lost to this in addition to a COVID life.”
In speaking with students, Lewis has heard firsthand the effect distance learning is having on them.
“You talk to kids of all ages and they say, ‘At some point I just tune out. I can’t do it for eight hours straight,’” he said. “We’ve got to be conscious about it.”
To make matters even more complicated, students often go straight from learning on the computer to communicating with friends online. Lewis shared how distance learning for one student turned into a bullying situation after peers antagonized her on social media for the appearance of her home.
He said in addition to parents being aware of how the internet and its varying apps work, families have to instill courtesy and kindness in their children as well when talking to them about social media.
“We have to teach our child and grandchildren how to use it correctly and especially how not to use it,” Lewis said. “It’s not a tool to be mean, it’s a tool for information and that is a tool that has blossomed in the COVID world.”
The pandemic is challenging for families in so many ways, but Lewis hopes the social media guide can help parents navigate at least one facet of everyday life which has been changed by COVID. The guide is available for download and viewing at www.legacyhealthendowment.org.