Can Social Networking Affect Mental Health?

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Adolescents spending more than two hours each day social networking – such as on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – are more likely to have poorer mental health, an unmet need for mental health support, as well as experience more emotional stress and suicidal thoughts.

That’s the conclusion of a 2015 Canadian study based on health and drug use questionnaires completed by 753 middle school and high school students. The researchers found that one-quarter of the students spent more than two hours a day on social networking, and that 54 percent spent two hours or less. About 20 percent reported infrequent or no social networking time.

The researchers noted that studies conducted among university students have not resulted in similar associations, and suggested this may be due to the possibility that older youth handle challenges better and engage in social networking differently.

 My Viewpoint: Kids these days seem to be utterly obsessed with their cell phones and extending their social time with pals, distant or even in the same house or classroom. They always seem to have their phones in their hands. Of course, they aren’t alone – many adults do the very same thing. This constant need to be connected draws people away from normal human communication and from living in the moment.

 What This Means to You: The new study is troubling. It indicates that excessive social networking has its potential pitfalls and perhaps interferes with youngsters’ ability to develop good social skills and emotional strength. It may also indicate that some kids use social networking as an avenue for support and confiding that they can’t find elsewhere, such as in their homes. There’s also the problem of excess exposure to the electromagnetic radiation of cell phones that can be a health risk for some individuals.

 Recommendation: Parents should be role models by putting their own cell phones away when they spend time with their kids, unless they are truly awaiting an urgent call or text. Parents also may need to consider excess social networking as a sign of emotional stress, such as depression, to be addressed through greater attention and intimate conversation, and perhaps even counseling. One more thing: spending more time texting and talking means less or no time doing other health-promoting activities, such as exercise. Considering the high rate of adolescent weight problems, it’s important that they get out, get active and put down the phone.


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