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Black Mirror

Social media affects our mental health

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Social media can have a negative impact on many aspects of individuals as well as all within a family dynamic. There are pros and cons to using social media. The most obvious pro is that it connects people in a world where we all get caught up in our own lives and lose touch with friends and family. It can also help us keep up with interests and give us a break from the stress of the real world for a short time.

However, excessive use of social media can cause family relationships to suffer, create a negative self-image from comparing ourselves to others, a more sedentary lifestyle, depression and other mental health issues. It can also become addictive. Education and awareness of the many issues that result from overuse of social media are areas I want to impact through my work as a counselor in Northeast Florida.

Our kids are especially influenced by social media. Children may become less open with adults and choose to retreat to social media to help them get through issues whether minor or major. They quite likely will get unhealthy or even immoral information that could be more damaging. Their self-esteem can also suffer, as they compare themselves to others or become obsessed with the number of likes and who does and doesn’t like their posts. When their self-esteem suffers, depression and anxiety will join in. Additionally, it’s easy for anyone to engage in negative behaviors online because there is a lack of authority or policing of behavior and, of course, anonymity. This allows us to misbehave online, often with impunity. It opens the possibility of predators engaging with our children. Because of these things, it is very important to talk to your children about ways to use social media. Some examples are: what the correct behavior online is, not comparing themselves based on others’ seemingly perfect lives, decreasing their time using media, and being aware of those who would seek to exploit them (stranger danger). Give them confidence and information so they will not succumb to these possible damaging issues and be able to maintain healthy attitudes.

Another issue with media and children is bullying. More than 90 percent of teenagers have witnessed or have been the victim of cyberbullying. Though bullying has been around since the dawn of time, it has recently been in the forefront of mental health issues. Children who are bullied on top of family and/or mental health issues often have a difficult time dealing with the bullying. These are the children we need to especially look out for and protect due to an already weakened coping ability. As we have seen in the news, there has been an increase in suicide in teens due to bullying. Be aware of this serious issue. Don’t hesitate to report it and get help from a professional.

As adults, we can also get too involved or addicted to social media, and this can also affect our mental health for some of the same reasons. It can become difficult to relax or fall asleep after using social media, resulting in lack of sleep or even insomnia. It’s often that depression or anxiety can manifest or get worse by comparing ourselves to others online or allowing ourselves to get involved in drama unfolding on social media. Furthermore, it can negatively affect face-to-face encounters.

Another important issue that we sometimes don’t realize is occurring is that we’re neglecting those around us, being unaware or unmindful of our family and surroundings. New software monitors phone usage; how many times you pick it up or how many hours you spend using it. It has been surprising to many just how high the numbers are in our society. If we are not available for our families, they will turn elsewhere for attention or get help from others of whom we may not approve. Children do not react to neglect the same way adults do. For children, it can have long-term negative effects in many areas of their personality and/or self-image. So, put down your phone and spend more time being aware, listening and being involved with your family. The rest of the world will keep spinning.

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Wright is a licensed mental health therapist in Mandarin.

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