The headlines are difficult to ignore these days.
One cannot help but feel a bit of anxiety when consuming the state of our affairs in the news — war, climate, and the economy.
So you may turn to social media instead for an escape?
Perhaps consuming manicured images or videos of travel, food, and design can help you feel less anxious.
We forget though that this constant intake of information, regardless of the attributes, can be an overload that can further create stress.
As adults, we have had some years of practice to regulate and gate our emotions and thoughts from our daily intake of information, but yet, more of us are overwhelmed than ever before.
According to an American Psychiatric Association study at the end of 2022, 37% of Americans rated their mental health being fair or poor, up from 31% the year before.
If the adults are feeling this way, what about our children?
This brings me to the topic of our kids. How are they to navigate amidst our current state of affairs? Our children have had information overload coming out of the pandemic in addition to the constant change in their routines with school closures.
The Surgeon General has described mental health as the “defining public health crisis of our time” and made a mission to address the health crisis that is defining a generation.
A recent CDC report showed the alarming increased statistics of Emergency Department-related visits associated with mental health diagnoses — anxiety, eating disorders, depression, etc.
The call to action for many in the healthcare space is to advocate for solutions that help to prevent, identify, and address these issues in our youths before they are in crisis mode.
I wholeheartedly agree with this approach so that we can bring the right resources to improve the infrastructure for education and literacy, access improvement, and programming development.
But more than anything, we need to address that access to devices and social media at a young age can result in the culmination of what we are seeing today in our preteens and teens.
Should we limit access to devices?
The Sapien Labs recently published a pioneering global study with over 27,000 young adult participants. The conclusion is that the later a young adult receives a smartphone the better their mental well-being as adults.
Much research on child brain development has focused on how neural pathways — or the connections within the brain are made by the stimulation of our senses from an early age.
While it certainly is convenient to hand over our mobile device when a child asks for it, the amount of time spent on a device can potentially be re-wiring those connections that are changing sleep patterns and/or creativity as suggested by this Harvard study.
I saw this in my own children after a limited amount of screen time when they were toddlers — the disrupted sleep that ensued.
Social media and mental health
More than just the timing or the time spent on devices, social media continues to play a big role as well.
A survey on behalf of OnOurSleeves initiative out of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus shows that 7 out of 10 parents believe that image editing and filtering apps have a negative influence on their children’s body image.
The Surgeon General today issued a report calling for more action from the tech community in protecting our children’s data.
The same report also addresses the need for families to develop plans around “tech-free” times.
While devices, technology, and social media have many benefits, the deleterious effects on our children — the young brains under development, are contributing to this mental health crisis.
We are just seeing the cumulative effects of over a decade of social media exposure.
We have to decide how we want to act individually and collectively.
As adults, we have our experiences to lean on for developing our habits to take care of our mental well-being.
Our children do not have that luxury.
— Jenny Yu, MD FACS is the chief health officer at RVO Health which owns Healthline Media.
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