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Social Media Is Parents' Top Concern as Kids Head Back to School: Poll

MONDAY, Aug. 21, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- When U.S. parents express their concerns about their school-aged children, social media use and the internet are at the top of the list.

Mental health issues are another top worry, according to the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

“Parents still view problems directly impacting physical health, including unhealthy eating and obesity, as important children’s health issues, said pediatrician Dr. Susan Woolford, co-director of the poll.

"But these have been overtaken by concerns about mental health, social media and screen time,” Woolford said in a Michigan Medicine news release.

Two-thirds of parents surveyed reported that they are worried about children’s increased time on devices, including overall screen time and use of social media. Those were the No.1 and No.2 concerns on the list this year.

“Children are using digital devices and social media at younger ages, and parents may struggle with how to appropriately monitor use to prevent negative impacts on safety, self-esteem, social connections and habits that may interfere with sleep and other areas of health,” Woolford said.

Screen time became a growing concern for parents during the pandemic, previous reports have suggested.

Woolford encourages parents to regularly evaluate their kids’ use of technology. Certain social media and device settings can also help protect kids.

Mental and emotional health were among the other top concerns.

The majority of parents view depression, suicide, stress, anxiety, and related topics like bullying as big problems, the poll showed.

Nearly half of those surveyed said they were concerned about the lack of mental health services.

“The mismatch between the growing number of youth with mental health concerns and the limited access to mental health services has serious implications for children’s well-being,” Woolford said.

School violence is another concern. Woolford noted that changes to the school environment, such as metal detectors, armed guards and locked doors, as well as active shooter drills, may be reminders of the potential for violence.

“Parents may want to talk with their child periodically about how safe they feel at school and what they’ve heard about violent incidents,” Woolford said. “They should tailor the information to their child’s age and avoid sharing graphic details while offering reassurance about safety measures that their school has in place."

Poorer parents were more likely to have major concerns about depression and suicide, bullying, school violence, unsafe neighborhoods, drinking and drugs, smoking and vaping. Among the other concerns of lower-income parents were teen pregnancy and sexual activity, child abuse and neglect, parental stress, discrimination, COVID-19 and health risks from pollution.

Those in middle and higher-income homes were more likely to rate overuse of devices and social media as significant problems.

“Differences in how parents view children’s health problems may reflect their day-to-day experiences dealing with environmental challenges such as unsafe neighborhoods, as well as discrimination that may be more frequently experienced by children from low-income homes,” Woolford said.

Parents across income groups had similar concerns about a number of topics, including unhealthy diet, obesity, health care costs and lack of mental health services.

Some of the lowest-ranking concerns on the list were vaccine safety at 16%, parents doing too much at 13% and COVID at 12%.

“Parents should partner with schools, mentors and their child’s health care providers to address both ongoing and emerging health concerns," Woolford said. "They should also regularly revisit conversations with their children and teens that encourage them to share any concerns they might be experiencing, both physically and emotionally."

Parents were surveyed in February. The results were released Aug. 21.

More information

The Child Mind Institute has more on how social media affects teens.

SOURCE: Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan, news release, Aug. 21, 2023

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