The Impact of Social Media on Children

Child looking at social media on phone

By Dr. Melissa Estavillo

As our children are gaining increased access to the internet though personal gaming systems, individual computers, and Smart Phones, parents many begin to wonder what effect this media phenomenon is having on their children.

Many recent studies have indicated several negative effects that the internet and social media may be having on their children including increased risk of exposure to pornographic material, internet sexual addiction, and greater exposure to pedophilic predatory relationships. While these risks of internet exposure are accurate and need to be taken seriously by parents, it is important to ask the question, “Does social media also increase our children’s risk of using alcohol, tobacco, and illicit substances?”

I don’t think so. Well at least not directly.

It is important for us to remember that a correlation between social media use and use of substances does not mean that social media actually causes this increased risk.

So what could be leading to this correlation? Well, let’s take a look at what we do know. For many years we have known that factors such as low self-esteem, low school commitment and performance, and peer drug use greatly increases a child’s risk of using substances like alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Additionally, we have also known that the greatest factors that increase a child’s risk of substance use has to do with factors within the family. Poor and inconsistent supervision of a child’s behavior, high levels of family conflict, poor relationships with parents, and parental use of substances are the most salient indicators of child or adolescent substance use.

So what could these factors have to do with Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter? Let’s take a look again. Children and teens that are consistently exposed to pictures of peers drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes may in fact be more likely to use substances as peer use does increase a child’s risk. But, we have to keep in mind that on Social Networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, children can pick who they follow and what friends they have. So, the increased risk does not actually lie within a child’s exposure to these Social Networking sites, but still lies within the actual peers that a child chooses to follow and befriend.

The family has always been the most influential agent in preventing substance use and even with the advent of Social Media this continues to be so. Children who spend hours upon hours on Social Media sites will inevitability be less connected to their family and can miss out on valuable opportunities to connect, learn, and strengthen their relationships. But let’s not confuse ourselves thinking that Social Media is the problem. Hours on the internet is almost always a symptom of a greater family problem.

Unfortunately, the solution to decreasing your child’s risk of substance use it not as simple as eliminating your child’s Facebook account, but instead requires continual monitoring and participation in your child’s daily activities. So here are some proven suggestions to help decrease your child’s risk of drug, alcohol and tobacco use:

  • Monitor your child’s whereabouts more closely along with what they are viewing on the internet
  • Be proactive in your child’s peer selection; help them chose healthy friendships
  • Make regulations about where your children go and what they do while you are not around
  • Encourage high academic performance– whether it is an A or a C, encourage your child to always give their best effort
  • Talk to your child about drug use and the negative consequences associated with it
  • Take the time to connect with your child and ask about their concerns, fears, and worries
  • Lastly, provide your child with a safe environment to make mistakes. Unconditional love coupled with firm expectations has always been the key to building healthy self esteem in a child