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There are plenty of reasons we should engage in enjoyable activities, especially because it is crucial to our overall health.

These days, everyone’s lives seem to revolve around social media, so it’s important to recognize when we need a break.

Social media has benefits for all ages, but it can also negatively impact our health if we are not using it responsibly.

According to a 2018 Social Media Fact Sheet from the Pew Research Center, social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older has nearly doubled — from 22% to 42% over the past year. Half (47%) of internet users ages 50-64 and one in four (26%) users aged 65 and older now use social networking sites. The same report states that out of nearly 750 participants, 45% of the 13- to 17-year-olds are online almost constantly, and 97% use a social media platform, such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.

The Pew’s updated 2021 Social Media Fact Sheet states that in February 2021, 66% of men have at least one social media account, and 78% of females have at least one social media account. In contrast, in 2005, only 6% of men and 4% of women had at least one social media account. It is safe to assume that the increased number of users has led to increased hours of the day being spent in front of an electronic device.

How It’s Beneficial

In a 2013 article, “The Top 10 Benefits of Social Media and Marketing,” the Career and Professional Development Center at Arizona State University suggests that if you desire to work in the media or communication fields, social media will likely be an essential aspect of any role you take on. The article also states that social media impacts many individuals, and to best communicate the work effectively, it is essential to be well-versed on the subject.

According to a 2021 presentation, Social Media Marketing Strategies, by Jenny Carleo from Rutgers Cooperative Extension, another benefit of using social media is to help people make informed decisions before making a purchase. Thirty-three percent of individuals visit social media sites to engage in product research before making a purchase decision, and 47% say that social media sites influence their decision to purchase a specific brand. Twenty-six percent of respondents changed their minds about buying the product after reading about it on social media.

The 2018 article, “Social Media and Teens,” from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Physiatry, states that social media has potential benefits for children and teen users. These include staying connected with friends, meeting new friends with shared interests, finding community and support for specific activities, sharing artwork or music, and expressing and exploring themselves.

Why We All Need a Break

It is critical, regardless of age, that we set limits to our social media use and unplug to help our overall health.

The AACAP article also indicates potential risks of social media use for children and teens, including:

  • Exposure to harmful and inappropriate content.
  • Exposure to dangerous people.
  • Cyber-bullying.
  • Oversharing personal identifiable information.
  • Exposure to excessive advertisements.
  • Privacy concerns.
  • Identify theft.
  • Interfering with exercise, sleep, homework or family activities.

If you are a parent, there are ways you can teach your children to use social media responsibly.

  • Set limits on how long they are allowed on devices.
  • Check apps.
  • Ensure privacy settings are appropriate.
  • Instruct them on the importance of not oversharing information.

Children and teens do not have the same capacity as adults to make responsible decisions, because their brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex responsible for executive decisions is still growing and does not fully develop until age 25. With this said, without safe and healthy limits or guidance from parents, children and teens are at an increased risk of engaging in risky behaviors.

A 2021 article, “Does Social Media Cause Depression,” from the Child and Mind Institute, includes several findings from a comprehensive 2020 study by the National Institutes of Health, in which researchers analyzed the impacts of social media. Findings indicate that the prolonged use of social media platforms such as Facebook may be related to negative signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Social media can portray an image that is believed to be appealing to others — for example, posting pictures to portray “perfect family life” or posting pictures in hopes to make your life “stand out” compared to your peers. A national sampling of young adults (age 19-32) showed a correlation between the time spent on social media and perceived social isolation. Studies also suggest depression could contribute to the increased use of social media at any age.

The fear of missing out, nicknamed “FOMO,” is an additional reason we need to keep our social media use in check. FOMO includes fear of losing connection to our social world, and that need to feel connected via a digital device sometimes trumps whatever is going on in the actual situation we are in. The more we use social media, the less we think about being present in the moment.

Putting it All Together

Excessive use of an electronic device without taking a break can impact our health. Social media can cause us to develop depression and cause us to lose sight of what’s important, if we are always connected to our digital devices.

The potential negative risks of social media use seem to be higher among children and teens. However, at any age, it’s important to recognize when we need a break. If you are a parent, it’s essential to teach your children the responsibility of engaging with social media in a safe and healthy way.

Alyssa DeFazio is a Penn State Extension educator for food, families and health based out of Schuylkill County.

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