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  • Writer's picturekjrusseth

Beyond the Hype: Social Media, Teen Brains, and Family Support - A Psychiatrist's View

"Alarming" media headlines about technology altering our teens' brains are attention-grabbing. But as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and parent, I suggest looking past sensationalism to have more meaningful discussions about balancing technology use and our children's development.

Often, articles shared on social media are summaries of more nuanced research. Important details and perspectives can get lost. One such piece strongly implies harm from social media on teen brains. While the original 2023 study had merits, limitations were overlooked in the brief synopsis passed along through social media posts to others. Pre-existing mental health, personality differences, and other factors that may contribute to overuse were not fully accounted for. Cause-and-effect was implied but not proven in human studies. The sample also had constraints.

This is not to dismiss reasonable concerns about technology overuse among vulnerable youth. As caring parents and clinicians, we are right to thoughtfully guide teen digital habits. Overgeneralization does not serve our kids. Instead, we need to recognize that each child’s needs are unique, and guidance should be tailored accordingly by understanding the nuances of their individual development and susceptibility.

Luckily there are several things parents can do to help.

Guidance from child psychiatry organizations on supporting teens' social media use, such as this 2018 resource from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, provides a prudent approach aligned with current recommendations. While an evolving research landscape continues to inform our understanding of technology's impacts, the core advice around setting reasonable limits, maintaining open communication, and monitoring for any academic or mental health red flags remains wise and relevant. Also, consider ethical modeling, encouraging diverse interests, and approaching discussions with curiosity, versus fear or blame.

With wisdom and balance, we can help teens integrate technology into their lives in healthy ways. The next "alarming" headline should spark more nuanced discussions, not reactionary fear. I encourage digging deeper, consulting credible experts, and talking to your pediatrician or child psychiatrist about specific guidance tailored to your child’s needs. Our kids deserve discourse more thoughtful than headlines and clickbait can provide. Let's model this!

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