Allisun Jensen, PA-C
Ravalli Family Medicine
411 West Main Street
Hamilton, MT 59840
Today's tweens and teens are connected to one another, and to the
world, via digital technology more than any previous generation. Recent
Studies show that 95% of teens ages 12-17 are online, 78% own cell phones,
1 in 4 teens has a tablet computer and 9 in 10 teens has access to a computer
at home. While today's adolescents may be more digitally savvy than
their parents, their lack of maturity and life experiences can quickly
get them into trouble. With back to school here, it is especially important
to visit both the benefits and risks of social media and internet use
in our children.
There are certainly many benefits to social media and internet today and
especially for our children. They can stay connected with friends and
family, make new friends, share pictures and exchange ideas. They use
social media sites for networking for school projects and studying, they
can express themselves through blogs, community engagement for charity
and volunteering, and improving tolerance by exposing them to diverse
ideas and people. It also helps with their health and the mobile technologies
have already improved this by increasing
medication adherence, better disease understanding and fewer missed appointments.
Despite all of the benefits, there are obviously clear risks. Although
it may increase their communication overall, there is a worry that they
are spending more time online then in face to face conversation. This
may change the ways our children interact and their ability to converse
Cyberbullying is a really big issue and is the most common online risk
for all teens. It is deliberately using digital media to communicate false,
embarrassing, or hostile information about another person. It can have
profound consequences such as depression, anxiety, severe
isolation and tragically, suicide.
The disbursement of TOO much information has lasting consequences as well.
Sexting is a risky problem with reports that 20% of teens have sent or
posted inappropriate photos or videos of themselves. This can have not
only personal consequences if the recipients "over-share" but
legal consequences depending on participants' ages. In the case of
social media sites "what goes online, stays online" and can
affect future college and job acceptance.
There is a new diagnosis that is being researched called Facebook depression
that is the development of symptoms of depression after spending a long
time on social media sites. The thoughts are that teens compare their
lives to others, have less in person interaction and they
go online to "escape" the real world.
Finally, time spent on social media affects sleep. Social media use is
linked with less hours of sleep in teens as well as having a TV in the
bedroom and having a cell phone. One thought is that the light from screens
affects circadian rhythms making it difficult to fall asleep after use.
We know that social media does have positive influences on our children
and technology is certainly not going away so we have to have proactive
ways to manage the risk in our children. Parents should learn about these
technologies first hand. There is simply no better way than to have a
profile yourself. It will also enable you to "friend" your kids
and monitor them online. Also having an open discussion with kids and
let them know that their online presence is something that you want and
need to know about. Keep computers in a public part of your home so you
can monitor what they are doing and how much time they are spending there.
Emphasize that everything sent over the internet or cell phone can be
shared with the entire world, so it is important they use good judgement.
Consequences can reach into adulthood
and in some cases are legal ones. Have your kids show you their privacy
settings and check in regularly to make sure they haven't changed.
Set limits for internet and cell phone use and learn the signs of trouble:
skipping activities, meals and homework for social media; weight loss
or gain; a drop in grades. Check chat logs, emails, files and social networking
profiles for inappropriate content, friends, messages and images periodically.
It is extremely important that you are transparent with your children
so they know what you will be doing. Be sure to
stress the importance of not using their phone when driving or doing other
activities that require their full attention. Have a discussion with children
of appropriate age about sexting. Make sure they understand that it is
unsafe and can have legal consequences in some
instances. And finally try to limit screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Technology is here to stay and if used appropriately can be an adjunctive
to a rich and meaningful life. If we teach our kids responsible social
media and internet use early, it can contribute to a richer and more meaningful
connection with people and the world. There is plenty of more in depth
resources for this online especially through the American Academy of Pediatrics
website and I encourage all parents to be proactive in their engagement
with their children. I also encourage all parents to discuss this with
their family physician for further
This week's health column is collaboration between Ravalli Family
Medicine and Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital. Questions and or comments
regarding this week's health column please contact Allisun Jensen,
PA-C at Ravalli Family Medicine, 411 West Main Street, Hamilton, MT 59840.
Working together to build a healthier community!