The Impact of Social Media on Children’s Mental Health: Strategies for Parents to Support Their Well-being

So, here’s the deal: Does social media mess with kids’ heads? It turns out research spills the beans on how social media apps and the Internet can seriously mess with the minds of teens and children.

It’s no secret that social media is taking a toll on our kids’ mental well-being, body image, and social skills. Parents are seriously worried about the influence of social media sites, screen time, and the internet on their little ones and teenagers, especially since they’re the first generation to grow up with these digital realms as a constant companion right from the start. The long-term effects on Generation Z and the younger ones are causing quite a stir among parents.

Parenting in the Digital Age

Back in the day, when some of us had the internet towards the end of our younger years, social media wasn’t even a thing until the early 2000s. Even during the MySpace era, those websites were mostly just a fun way to connect and have some entertainment. But now, online communities and virtual relationships have become a significant part of most kids’ lives.

As parents, we didn’t grow up with the real-life experience of dealing with social media, smartphones, and cyberbullying, which makes it pretty challenging to figure out how to support our kids in this digital age.

Pandemic Affects

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the amount of time both young people and adults spend on social media platforms, and experts have noticed a connection between increased screen time and diminished self-esteem. Our social media feeds bombard us with a never-ending stream of comparisons and trying to keep up with others. It’s already tough for us as grown-ups to maintain a positive mindset when it feels like everyone on our friend list leads perfect lives.

However, distinguishing between a social media facade and reality becomes even more challenging for kids and teenagers.

While social media does offer certain positive aspects, such as enabling communication and visual interaction, albeit through screens, it can also serve as a valuable tool for outreach, community building, and social connections. However, it is crucial to approach its usage in a balanced and healthy manner, ensuring proper moderation and management.

When it comes to seeking guidance as parents, it can be quite overwhelming to determine the right sources of support. That’s why in this article, we’ve simplified matters by exploring five distinct ways in which social media impacts our children’s well-being. Additionally, we provide practical strategies to assist and alleviate the potential negative effects.

1. Social Media Causes Low-Self Esteem

Undoubtedly, the impact of social media on self-esteem is a well-documented concern when it comes to mental health. A quick scroll through the average person’s Instagram feed often reveals a multitude of images and posts showcasing people having a great time. From snapshots of luxurious homes to updates about seemingly perfect children or landing dream jobs, it’s natural to initially feel joy for our loved ones.

However, beneath the surface, an immediate response emerges—an instinctive tendency to compare what others have that we lack.


Since the dawn of social media, teenagers are no longer subjected to social comparisons solely within the confines of the school day; it has become an around-the-clock cycle. In a matter of seconds, high schoolers can showcase their brand-new Nike shoes or flaunt the PS5 they received for their birthday via platforms like Snapchat. Moreover, applications like Snapchat, designed for content to disappear, have unfortunately made it simpler for kids and teens to engage in harmful behaviors such as sending inappropriate images, bullying, and succumbing to peer pressure.

These actions, in turn, have detrimental effects on a child’s self-esteem.

2. How to Help Kids Feel More Confident

In order to support your child who might be grappling with low self-esteem stemming from peer pressure or social media, it’s crucial to establish an open-door policy. Let them feel assured that they can approach you at any time to discuss any matter, and when they do, it’s essential to respond without anger if they share something distressing.

Reacting with hostility to their mistakes will only create distance and make them more inclined to conceal crucial information in the future.


When your child confides in you about a challenging situation, it’s important to approach it without passing immediate judgment. Instead, seek a deeper understanding by asking open-ended questions. For instance, you could say, “I’m a bit confused about why you sent that text.

Can you help me understand your reasoning?” or “I’m uncomfortable with the use of those words. Could you explain why you chose to use them?” Remember, you don’t have to endorse their actions to provide support and assistance during difficult moments.

3. Too Much Screen Time Causes Sleep Issues

We’ve been repeatedly advised to power down our electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime (two hours being even more beneficial) due to the disruptive effect of the emitted light on our circadian rhythm. Unfortunately, the same holds true for our children. Moreover, the stress and anxiety induced by social media also impact their ability to easily drift off into sleep.


Inadequate sleep not only gives rise to various health problems but also has a detrimental impact on your child’s academic performance, behavior, appetite, and overall well-being. It can contribute to feelings of depression and hinder the proper development of their growing brain. It’s crucial to note that the average child and teenager require around 9.5 hours of sleep to facilitate healthy development and maturation.

4. How to Help Kids Sleep Better

One simple step you can take is to establish screen time boundaries, particularly before bedtime. Initially, it may pose a challenge, especially if your child has electronic devices like a computer or TV in their room.

However, if you stay committed to the plan, you will gradually witness reduced resistance within a week or two. If you haven’t implemented screen time limits in your household before, consider starting with a family meeting to discuss the new policy. Clearly communicate that this change will be implemented and is non-negotiable, but also be open to listening, addressing any questions, and addressing any concerns your children may have.


To promote good sleep hygiene, replacing screen time with relaxing activities is beneficial. Consider allocating an hour for your child to engage in quiet play with LEGOs, drawing, or reading. You could also spend time together playing games or reading as a family or even incorporate these activities into bathtime.

If necessary, utilize a timer device to automatically disable Wi-Fi in your home at a designated time, preventing access even if they attempt to connect. Additionally, you can gather all phones and devices and store them in a communal location, keeping them secure with a lock and key.

5. Social Media Dependence Leads to Less Independence

Screen time and social media usage are categorized as passive activities that do not contribute to the growth or development of your child’s brain. Watching television and scrolling through social media apps do not encourage critical thinking or hands-on learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no screen time for children under two years old, while children over two should have no more than one to two hours per day.

However, research conducted by the American Psychological Association reveals that, on average, children aged 8 to 12 in the United States spend four to six hours daily using electronic devices, while teenagers spend seven to nine hours daily.


Excessive screen time has been linked to behavioral issues, learning difficulties, attention deficit disorder, and hampers overall cognitive development. Children thrive as hands-on learners, requiring experiences that actively engage and stimulate their brains.

According to the recommendations by the American Psychological Association (APA), the following guidelines are suggested for children and screen time:

  • Children under 18 months: It is advised to avoid screen-based media except for video chatting.
  • Children between 18 months and 24 months: Parents should carefully choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children.
  • Children aged 2 to 5: Limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming.
  • Children aged 6 and older: Set consistent limits on the duration of media usage and the types of media accessed.

6. How to Help Kids Be More Independent

Not all screen time is inherently negative, and there are ways parents can utilize it as a positive and productive learning experience for their children. By transforming screen time from a passive activity to an active one, it becomes an opportunity to stimulate a child’s brain and foster critical thinking skills that passive media tends to suppress.


Here are some strategies to make screen time more engaging and beneficial:

  1. Watch programs together: Pause the TV or video and ask your child thought-provoking questions to encourage deeper thinking and analysis.
  2. Initiate post-movie discussions: Talk about the plot, characters, conflicts, and resolutions to enhance their comprehension and interpretation skills.
  3. Encourage creative expression: Act out stories or create puppet shows inspired by their favorite shows and movies, allowing them to develop storytelling abilities.
  4. Use favorite shows as a gateway: Capitalize on their interests by using related themes to expand their knowledge and experiences. For instance, if they love a dinosaur show, take them to a museum to see dinosaur skeletons.
  5. Explore extracurricular activities: If your child is passionate about music or dance showcased in certain shows, consider enrolling them in music or dance classes to nurture their interests further.

7. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) From Too Much Time Online

For teenagers and young adults, the fear of missing out, commonly known as FOMO, has become a prevalent form of social anxiety. In today’s world, it seems like everything is shared on social media: parties, sports events, shopping sprees, vacations, sleepovers, the latest shoe or video game purchases, and so on. Social media has become a lifeline for our children, and when they are disconnected from it, they often feel disconnected from life itself.


On the other hand, when we witness everyone around us seemingly having a wonderful time, it triggers a sense of FOMO as we realize that our peers are enjoying something we are not. A recent study focusing on millennials revealed that the top three triggers for FOMO on social media are vacations, parties, and food. Experiencing FOMO in these situations can lead to feelings of envy, jealousy, and even symptoms of depression.

8. How to Help

Helping your child understand that the seemingly perfect facade on social media doesn’t represent real life is crucial. Encourage them to reflect on their own posts and shares, reminding them that many people choose to highlight only the positive aspects while keeping the negative experiences private.

It’s essential to emphasize that their peers likely have their fair share of negative experiences, too; they simply choose not to share them publicly.


Guide your child to reflect on the positive aspects of their own life and encourage them to keep a gratitude journal if they are old enough. Engage in open discussions about their overall well-being and inquire about any impact that social media may have on them. Stress the importance of taking breaks from time to time and the value of unplugging from social media.

Encourage them to spend time outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and engaging in physical exercise. These activities can help counterbalance the potential negative impact of social media and are essential for teenagers’ mental health and physical well-being.

9. Decreased Physical Activity

It comes as no surprise that there is a clear link between increased screen time and reduced physical activity. Children and teenagers are spending more and more time online or in front of screens, leaving less time for active play and movement. Moreover, sitting in front of the TV or engaging in online activities often leads to mindless eating and drinking, resulting in the consumption of extra calories.


Excessive screen time can also disrupt your child’s sleep patterns, which can contribute to weight gain. The combination of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to various health issues, including diabetes, heart diseases, respiratory problems, and even depression.

10. How to Help Kids Get More Exercise

Motivate your child to embrace an active lifestyle by leading by example. Engage in physical activities together, such as taking exercise classes, going to the gym, having dance parties, or going for walks.

If your child is interested in a particular sport or activity, consider enrolling them in a season or classes to nurture their passion.

Establish clear time limits for your child’s screen time to encourage them to be more active. Even if they choose to spend their non-screen time drawing or building with LEGOs, they are actively stimulating their cognitive skills. This not only helps combat the negative thoughts and emotions associated with excessive screen time but also promotes their overall mental well-being.


Transform screen time into an active activity by exploring games that promote movement and dance. There are numerous options available that encourage physical engagement. Additionally, you can find a variety of dance and yoga workout videos online that you and your child can follow along with.

Participating in these activities together sets a positive example and emphasizes the importance of physical health and well-being.