How time on social media impacts children's self-esteem

Teens and pre-teens are among the highest consumers of social media. But can too much time spent on social media impact the way children see themselves? According to a recent study, it absolutely can.

Dr. Joe Austerman of Cleveland Clinic Children's did not take part in the study, but says it shows that young girls tend to be impacted the most.  

"The use of social media, specifically in girls, they tend to use it as a way to judge themselves. They look at others and compare themselves to others and, in that comparison, the term is "up-comparison", so they're always looking at better qualities in other people and then looking negatively on themselves or feeling like they don't have those qualities," he explains. 

The study looked at nearly 10,000 children between the ages of 10 and 15 over a six-year period. Researchers found that high levels of social media use, especially for females, was associated with decreased happiness as they got older. Dr. Austerman says that while both boys and girls are using social media about the same amount, the ways they are using it are different. Females tend to use more chat-based social platforms, whereas males tend to use social media more often for gaming.

Dr. Austerman says that using social media apps that make it easier for teens to compare themselves with one another can be detrimental. He says that parents should look at setting limits on social media use for their children because more time spent online means less time spent having real face-to-face interactions.

"Having them engaged in real one-on-one or group activities, face-to -face. There's something very important that we miss on social media when we're on our devices and not interacting in person with people that is very beneficial for our development as humans," Dr. Austerman says.

He says that if a child who spends a great deal of time on social media starts to become isolated, irritable, has a sudden drop in grades or decreased participation in activities, these are signs that they may be having problems related to their social media use.  

Complete results of the study can be found in BMC Public Health.