We have long heard about the dangers of social media, especially for young people. But a recent study shows that the relationship between social media and mental health may be more complex than initially thought. In fact, social media can be both good and bad, depending on the level of emotional involvement users experience. Here’s what parents need to know.

The benefits of social media

Social media can offer some tremendous mental health benefits. Remember the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic? We were all stuck at home on lockdown, and people of all ages turned to the virtual world to maintain connections with friends and loved ones. When used responsibly, social media can help people build and sustain meaningful relationships.

Social media is also helpful on a practical level. No matter your interests or where you live, you can find like-minded people to discuss your favorite topics. You could learn a new skill or get support for whatever is happening in your life. And this is equally true for kids as well.

The drawbacks of social media

Of course, social media also has its problems. People glued to a screen all day tend to miss out on the positive effects of being in the moment. Physical exercise, time in nature, and face-to-face conversations with loved ones strongly correlate with better physical and mental health.

In addition, social media can quickly turn into an addiction. Fear of missing out can lead to repetitive scrolling, and comparing one’s life to others’ carefully curated highlight reels can lower self-esteem. This can become an ongoing cycle that worsens mental health.

Cyberbullying is a genuine risk, especially among middle and high-school students. Kids may not have the skills and experience to shut it down or to know when to simply walk away.

Emotional involvement

Research says the level of emotional involvement people have with social media determines whether it is positive or negative for them. In other words, those who view social media as just another tool tend to find the most benefits, while those who assign a more profound emotional meaning to it tend to experience the most drawbacks. Helping your kids maintain a healthy perspective is vital to teaching them to use social media in positive ways.

Tips for parents

Here are a few ways to help your kids maintain a healthier relationship with social media:

  • Encourage meaningful connections. Kids tend to fill up their friend lists with acquaintances and influencers, which can lead to comparisons and fear of missing out. Instead, encourage them to build genuine online connections with trustworthy people. If they want to join groups for their favorite hobbies or interests, stress the importance of keeping the conversations focused on those topics.
  • Limit access. The more time people spend on social media, the more likely they will develop an unhealthy reliance on it. An hour or two per day is a good rule of thumb. The rest of your family’s free time should focus on real life, such as physical activity or face-to-face interactions with loved ones.
  • Keep an eye out. You don’t necessarily have to police your kids online but check in now and then on their interactions. Encourage them to tell you if anything they run across on social media makes them feel troubled or unsure. Teach them the skills to redirect conversations that are veering into problematic territory.