Open dialogue needed to navigate social media, mental health

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Navigating social media is tough enough as an adult, but young people can sometimes see a bigger impact on their mental health.

Daybreak has spent all month focusing on ways to stay and talk about being mentally fit as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Two experts in the area of raising kids in a world revolving around social media are giving their tips to parents. Both agree having an open dialogue is one of the most important things you can do.

Dr. Lisa Lowery, section chief for adolescent medicine at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, told 24 Hour News 8 to watch for behavior changes rather than which sites are popular online.

“I think the fear is parents are like how do I keep up? And I honestly don’t know if we can keep up but having a healthy conversation with your teenager,” she explained. “If you see them start withdrawing, start closing their social media apps, not going out with friends, those are things you need to be aware of.” 

Earlier this year, Michigan passed a cyberbullying law. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a lot easier for bullies to find their targets online.

“Bullying used to happen from what 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. when they were in school. Now it can be 24 hours a day,” Lowery said.

She recommends cutting down on screen time by setting limits. For instance, it’s best for kids to be without electronics at least two hours before bed. 

Designating sleep time as “phone free” is something Erin Walsh agrees is pivotal. She travels the country to teach Mind Positive Parenting, which focuses on raising kids in a digital age. 

“When screen time goes up, sleep goes down and we know there’s a big relationship between sleep and mental health,” Walsh told 24 Hour News 8 over FaceTime. “So it might not be that media are bad, but if it’s getting in the way of sleep we can see some negative outcome.”

She said tracking every minute a child is on a device is tough, so parents should focus on setting expectations instead. 

For instance, have an open discussion about when phones should be put away at home. Boundaries are important, but Walsh says you also have to lead by example.

“If I’m saying, ‘Oh you can’t multitask while you’re doing your homework,’ but then I’m sitting there 90 percent of the time attending to my phone instead of, you know, focusing on something else, they learn by what they’re seeing,” she explained.

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