Odessa, TEXAS (Big 2/Fox 24) – A Mayo Clinic study shows that 12 to 15 year olds who spend more than three hours a day on social media may be at a higher risk for mental health problems. For this week’s segment of Centers Solutions: COVID Edition, Kristi Edwards and Melanie Saiz explain how children’s social media use impacts them–like through bullying and sleep disruption.

“It’s a constant bombardment of information. If your friend stays up late, they’re going to text you, because they’re up late, they want you to be talking to them, right? The more time that kids have on their hands, the more likely is it that you could have some bullying going on. You start a little-somebody might say something to someone that says it to somebody else, then before you know it you have a nice little ring of that mean stuff going on. It goes along with spreading any kind of rumors that might get started, and it’s really hard for that kind of thing to get shut down because parents are not always involved and know what’s happening. Unless one kid tells parents somewhere,” said Centers Executive Director Kristi Edwards.  

Social media can also cause unrealistic views of other people’s lives, which can create some unhealthy comparisons or peer pressure. With COVID-19, kids are likely using social media more. They also could be feeling isolated because of social distancing. 

” If you are so focused on social media that you may not be interacting, with your family, your peer group, or you know, doing anything else. So that can lead to social isolation which can lead to depression, anxiety, sometimes even suicidal thinking,” said Edwards.  

Social media isn’t all bad. There are benefits to using these networks, like being a source of support for kids during isolation, and providing important information like current events.

” They can create some online identities that help them connect to others, there’s a lot of networking building and groups–support groups they can join. Especially kids who are not normally very comfortable in social settings, this gives them a place where they can connect. There are things that kids can learn from social media. they can be exposed to current events in ways they might not normally be. They can be little mini activists as we’ve seen here lately. They help people stay connected, and especially in a time of social distancing this is a way that kids can stay connected,” said Center Marketing & Development Director Melanie Saiz.   

Edwards and Saiz say it’s important for parents or guardians to talk with the children, and set social media limits to make sure they’re being safe and healthy. 

“The best thing to do is have constant conversations about what’s going on and keep open communication. Of course–you’re the parent, you can look through whatever you want.  But you have to be very cognizant that even if you take things away, other kids are going to be around to let them into that world that you’re trying to protect them from. So more than anything–communication is key,” said Saiz.  

Some warning signs parents should look out for include a child spending a lot of time on social media, staying in their room for long periods, and falling behind in classes or extracurriculars. For more about social media and mental health–you can listen to the Centers podcast.