Many of us who think back to our childhood have fond memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons, jumping through a sprinkler and using the landline to talk to friends. Fast forward to the early 2000s and notice how much technology has evolved, changing the way kids do things now versus then.  

In this digital era, everything is done with social media. From interacting with others, to finding career opportunities, to alleviating boredom, it seems like many Gen Zs just can’t picture how life was like 20-30 years ago.         

There are 31.8 million social media users in Canada. While Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are meant to digitally connect people, the lack of face-to-face relationships and the growing problem of cyberbullying has left youth feeling symptoms of anxiety, depression and isolation. According to a study done by The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, data revealed that the more time children spent on their digital screens, the more severe their symptoms of anxiety and depression became.  

Social Media and Self-Esteem 

While social media is sometimes known to combat loneliness, develop social skills and connect people with similar interests, it can also raise doubts of self-worth, potentially leading to mental health problems. Today, 70% of teens ages 13 to 17 check their social media profiles more than once a day. Although many tech-savvy teens are aware of the truth behind what filters and photoshop can do, seeing influencers with their flawless skin, perfect figure and lavish lifestyle can surface insecurities when comparing themselves to what they see online.  

Social Media and Decreased Physical Activity 

Spending excessive amounts of time online usually means less time spent on doing physical activities, which cultivates personal accomplishments and developing new skills. Exercise is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety. It not only boosts mental and physical energy, but also enhances the feeling of calm and overall well-being when endorphins are released in the brain, breaking the cycle of negative feelings and stress.   

Social Media and Perceived Social Isolation 

If you’re not familiar with youth slang, here’s one term you may not recognize – FOMO, fear of missing out. And yes, it’s a real thing.  

When teenagers spend more time scrolling through social media profiles and posts rather than partaking in social experiences it often leads to perceived social isolation (PSI). Observing curated social feeds can result in teens feeling excluded and disconnected from the social world, making them question their own self-worth.       

Social Media and Sleep Deprivation 

One of the most common causes of social media depression is sleep deprivation. Sleep quality is aggravated when blue light from digital screens interferes with melatonin production, resulting in a decrease of sleepiness. A recent study showed that teens who were high social media users, using five hours or more per day, were about 70% more likely than the average users to fall asleep late on school nights and after midnight on other nights.   

Lowering the Risks 

With social media becoming so fundamental in youth’s lives, it’s important to address tips that will help kids limit negative social media use and ensure a healthy balance between usage and mental health:   

  • Balance: Parents should encourage children to spend an equal amount of time on both digital devices and offline social engagement (ex: sports). 
  • Turn off notifications: Children should turn off notifications before going to bed to prevent themselves from checking their phones and interrupting their sleep. 
  • Prioritize family time: Disengage from social media whenever possible and prioritize family time more. Ways to do this can include no phones at the dinner table.  
  • Critical thinking: Use critical thinking to identify fake news. Remember that much of what’s shown on social media feeds is exaggerated and you should not believe everything you see unless there is evidence to support claims.  

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Submitted by: Natasha Pande