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Have a quiet conversation with another parent about smartphones, open internet access and social media and you will find a conflicted parent. While smartphones offer many benefits they also carry many risks.

For parents, it’s uncharted territory. After all, we are the first generation of parents navigating their children through a ‘digitised childhood’ which is changing and evolving quicker than anyone could have imagined.

The increase in teenage anxiety, online bullying and depression linked to social media use are well known, and there seem to be few definitive social-cultural benefits for any child under 10 to use social media.

In mid-2021, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s suggestion to reduce the negative impacts of social media influence on children under 13, such as depression, youth suicide, low self-esteem, and anxiety was to create an Instagram for under 13’s. Parents collectively complained and in an unlikely about face, Facebook backtracked and the concept is now being ‘rested.’

The neurological impact of low-quality screen content is of concern too.

A study carried out at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and published on the JAMA Pediatrics Network, measured, compared, and analysed device use and screen time of 47 pre-school aged children from similar backgrounds. It found that excessive screen time in one group was causing parts of that child’s frontal lobe to start to die and waste away, much like an unused muscle.

Quite literally, the lack of use of the frontal lobe watching mindless content (just think of the unboxing videos on You-Tube) was so unstimulating, it caused part of their brain to start to waste away. You can check the study out for yourself here.

Rachel Ehmke’s article for the Child Mind Institute deep dives into issues around social media and teenagers and has some practical ways to entice our small people away from their online world. She suggests that getting kids involved in something they’re interested in will not only help kids build healthy self-esteem but also create their own identity offline.

“When kids learn to feel good about what they can do instead of how they look and what they own, they’re happier and better prepared for success in real life. That most of these activities also involves spending time interacting with peers face-to-face is just the icing on the cake,” Rachel writes. Louise Larkin, who has dedicated the last few years building Melbourne based charity Friend In Me, says that now more than ever, post-covid thinking needs to get kids away from social media and on the trampoline or away from screens and playing.

“After more than 300 collective days of lockdown for some areas, it’s never been more important to consider how we can get our children off their devices away from social media, back outside playing with their friends in the park or in the backyard playing community sport,” says Louise. “It could be sports, music, taking apart computers or volunteering—anything that sparks an interest and gives them confidence.”

Social media and screen time will leave varying impacts on a child’s emotional health but having an informed and aware parent and one prepared to say ‘no’ and put healthy boundaries around social media use and screen time, can dramatically reduce the impact of these risks.

– Pixbee HQ

For more information check out these articles:

ABC News: Instagram for kids may be coming, but public health experts want to press the pause button

Child Mind Institute: 12 Tips For Raising Confident Kids

The Conversation: How Parents Can Reduce Impacts of Social Media On Youth Wellbeing

APA: Technology Use In Children