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Keeping Children Safe On Social Media: Insights From a Psychiatrist

June 5, 2023

Keeping Children Safe On Social Media: Insights From a Psychiatrist


Keeping Children Safe On Social Media: Insights From a Psychiatrist

A Q&A With Dr. Arnab Datta, Medical Director at RevCore

In light of the recent social media health advisory issued by the American Psychological Association, we decided to speak with Dr. Arnab Datta and hear some of his valuable insights on social media use in children. Drawing from his professional expertise as well as the latest science-backed recommendations, Dr. Datta addresses the importance of educating children and setting appropriate boundaries for social media use.

Q: Hi Dr. Datta, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities as the Medical Director at RevCore?

A: Sure. As the Medical Director at RevCore, my main role is coordinating care for our patients. I attend case conference meetings with our healthcare providers who lead our team of counselors. During these meetings, we discuss particularly challenging cases, medication management, and psychotherapy strategies. I also provide collaborative support to our nurse practitioners who are responsible for prescribing medications.

Q: The American Psychological Association, the U.S. Surgeon General, and many other leading public health entities are increasingly warning of the negative impacts of social media use in adolescence. Can you share how this issue has emerged in your client interactions? Have you noticed more patients expressing concerns about the effects of social media, either on their personal lives or their children’s?

A: Absolutely. First, I want to mention that there are many positives to social media—and we should recognize and utilize them because social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Social media gives us access to so much information, literally at our fingertips. It’s a way to learn new things and connect with others. It gives so many people a voice and the ability to influence in a way that we’ve never seen before in history.

That being said, we are witnessing growing concerns about the negative effects of social media on mental health, particularly among children and teenagers. There is increased awareness about how exposure to harmful content, violent imagery, and inappropriate online activity can shape young minds. We can liken social media consumption to food consumption. If we feed our minds negativity, we become that. So, it’s essential to teach children to discern and feed their minds with positive thoughts that promote healthy self-esteem.

Q: How can we prepare kids to safely navigate social media and avoid the hazards to their mental health?

A: Education is key. Parents and teachers need to be proactive in teaching children about the potential dangers of social media and the importance of safe online practices. Morals and values, when instilled from an early age, can act as a shield against negative internet influences. As adults, it’s easy to lose touch with what it’s like to be a kid, so we also need to spend quality time with our children every day to understand their challenges of living through a digital age that many of us never experienced growing up. The dinner table is a great time to connect, and in some ways can even serve as a form of therapy session. Parents should talk to other parents, too, and learn about what their kids are doing. As they say, it takes a village.

Q: Instagram seems to play a big role in creating a distorted reality for youngsters. Can you expand on that?

A: The heightened pressure to gain likes and followers on social media can fuel a distorted perception of reality. Many adolescents, and even adults, find themselves unfavorably comparing their lives to the highly-curated and often embellished realities portrayed online. This can lead to decreased self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

Q: How can we counter the negative effects of social media on self-esteem?

A: We tend to hold onto the ignorant stuff that other people say, which can be damaging to our mental health. It’s important to teach kids that self-esteem must come from within and not hinge upon external validation. We need to help young people focus on becoming the best version of themselves, developing their sense of values and purpose, and deepening their understanding of what will bring them lasting fulfillment and satisfaction in life.

Q: How can parents, caregivers, and teachers effectively communicate with kids about the potential risks and benefits of social media?

A: Communication should be open, honest, and done on a regular basis. Engage them in discussions about their online activities, the potential risks involved, and how to use social media positively. Reinforce the importance of moral values and personal growth, and help them understand the difference between what is congruent and incongruent with self-validation and feelings of self-worth.

Q: What are some questions we can ask ourselves as we consider the role that we want social media to play in our lives and our children’s?

  1. Does the content I view on social media align with who I truly am? In other words, is the content I consume congruent with my talents, abilities, and sense of self? Does it nourish my true self, or does it propagate a false sense of self?
  2. How can I impart proper morals, values, and ethics to my children so they can be fulfilled and emotionally resilient? How can I raise my child in such a way that they are shielded from trauma, neglect, and loss — thereby decreasing the likelihood of them resorting to harmful influences that could lead them toward a false sense of self (like drugs, violence, and greed)?
  3. How can I reap the benefits of social media without ignoring its potential dangers? There are positives to social media — for example, it gives us access to a wealth of knowledge and allows us to easily share our unique perspectives. However, being able to discern what’s beneficial and what’s not requires a strong sense of one’s own values and morals — and not to mention wisdom. These are all things we can work to instill in our children and ourselves.

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