Aspirus Media Center

The Impact of Social Media on Children: Navigating the Digital Landscape


In the fast-paced digital landscape, social media's influence on children is a pressing concern. As youngsters increasingly embrace the online world, it’s important to understand the effects of social media on their overall wellbeing.

“Social media platforms offer a space for children to express themselves creatively and stay connected with friends and family, regardless of distance. However, social media can also be a breeding ground for many negative effects such as mental health issues and disrupted sleep patterns,” says Kylene Draeger, MD, Aspirus Pediatrician.


Anxiety and Depression: Studies have linked social media to increased rates of anxiety and depression, particularly during adolescence when the brain undergoes significant development. The shift from parental approval to peer validation and a propensity for risk-taking can amplify these effects.

Addictive Algorithms: Many social media apps employ algorithms that encourage prolonged usage. This can lead to excessive screen time, negatively impacting attention span and sleep quality. According to Unites States Health and Human Services, one-third or more of girls aged 11 to 15 say they feel “addicted” to certain social media platforms and over half of teenagers report that it would be hard to give up social media.


Eating Disorders: The unrealistic body image standards propagated by social media can have a lasting effect on children and teens. Dr. Draeger states, “social media has contributed to a rise in eating disorders, affecting as much as 20 to 23 percent of children.”


Body Image Issues: Social media exposes users to idealized and photoshopped images, distorting their perception of body image. Girls aged 10 to 14 are especially vulnerable, although this issue extends to all age groups.


Guidance for Parents and Caregivers:


“One of the most common questions about what should I block? And I never recommend just blocking or fully restricting. I think this is a great time for parents to come alongside their kids and build an understanding of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable content. There are still a lot of things that kids come across, unfortunately. And it's better if you do this in an open manner to be able to discuss,” says Dr. Draeger.


Here are some recommended proactive approaches to help guide children through today’s digital era:

  • Open Dialogue: Instead of outright blocking content, engage in open conversations about acceptable and unacceptable online material. Establish a platform for discussing online experiences and uncertainties.
  • Moderation Over Restriction: Encourage a balance between online and offline activities, setting realistic limits on screen time.
  • Digital Literacy: Teach children to critically assess online content, question its authenticity, and understand its potential impacts.
  • Privacy and Sharing: Emphasize the importance of privacy settings and cautious sharing of personal information.
  • Model Responsible Behavior: Demonstrate responsible social media usage to instill good habits in children.
  • Family Media Plan: Collaborate with children to create a family media plan that outlines screen time limits, app usage, and appropriate times for using social media.
  • Mindful Sleep: Establish a tech-free time before bedtime to encourage healthy sleep patterns for the entire family.

By fostering open communication, setting healthy boundaries, and encouraging critical thinking, parents and caregivers can guide children to navigate the digital landscape with confidence.



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