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Children Are in Danger of Seeing Social Media Like Junk Food

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is urging parents to protect their children and take a stand against social media. In an interview covered by The Guardian, she attacked tactics used by social media giants to target children and compared internet binges to junk food. “It’s something that every parent will talk about especially during school holidays – that children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food,” she said.

Smart phones have reshaped how children are raised. U.S. teens spend about nine hours daily using media, and this only includes media used for enjoyment purposes. Today's young people have become avid multitaskers, often using media while engaged in other activities. Half of teens reported they "often" or "sometimes" use social media or watch TV while doing homework, while 60 percent say they text, and 75 percent listen to music while doing so.

Two-thirds of the kids polled believed TV or texting had no influence on the quality of their schoolwork, while 50 percent believed social media usage made no difference. However, research (and experience) will tell you otherwise. A study conducted at Stanford University found that "media multitaskers" performed worse on tests of cognitive control and have a "distinct approach to fundamental information processing."

The other unmentioned risk here has to do with the fact that media usage is often a sedentary activity. Children spend more than 60 percent of their waking day sedentary, and by some estimates children sit an average of 8.5 hours a day. Further, activity levels are thought to decline steeply after age 8, especially among girls.

Banning your child from electronic media is probably not an option, so how can you find a happy medium that allows your child to connect with friends without damaging effects to his or her self-esteem, sleep schedule, or grades? For starters, become familiar with the social media platforms your child is using. When you find yourself checking to see if your Facebook post was "liked" by your friends, you'll begin to understand how all-consuming it can become for a teen.

Parents may also want to establish an "electronic curfew" for their children and teens to prevent social media usage from interfering with quality sleep or interrupting important activities like family meals and homework. Also, encourage teens to put down their phones and engage in other activities often, and to keep social media in perspective. Recent research identified physical withdrawal symptoms associated with separation from your digital devices that may be driven by rising levels of cortisol and anxiety; consider using the Emotional Freedom Techniques to reduce your anxiety levels and your dependence.

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