Everyone needs to have healthy relationships, especially friendships. What do your children’s relationships look like? Is your child isolated most of the time? Do they have lots of friends? How about friends on social media? All these are questions that as parents we think about, but is there cause for worry?
With some kids, you name it they have it: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat; but how many real friends do they have? What do they generally do when they are using their social media accounts? Do they appear troubled by missing out on posts made by their friends on social media? These conversations are important to have with your children.
First, pre-teens should not have access to any of these. Just as 16-year-olds are barely capable of driving safely and have the worst driving records, pre-teens are simply unable to navigate the highly complex, deeply consequential world of social media. For reasonably responsible teens, check in with them to see how they are managing, then offer support.
Professor Sonia Lupien, PhD, found that “although the stress hormone cortisol decreased for teens who engaged in liking friends’ posts and sharing supportive messages, it increased for teens who have more than 300 friends”. Cortisol is the stress hormone that controls changes that occur in the body in response to stress. Too much cortisol is asking for trouble. Dr. Lupien discovered that the development of depression later in life for kids ages 12-17 was strongly correlated with those who feel overwhelmed by their perceived obligations to their perceived friends on social media.
The other dangerous side of the social coin is isolation. Having friends is essential to one’s physical health; the benefits appear to start early in life, as reported by a recent study of 14,000 Americans by Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. She found that social isolation in adolescence clearly raised the risk of physiological distress and symptoms of disease (including inflammation, which often leads to hypertension).
Be interested and aware of who your children’s friends are, how they interact with their friends, and don’t forget to ask them how they are managing daily stress! The most important tool for adolescents in learning how to manage stress: modeling. Manage stress healthily yourself and your children will follow in your footsteps.
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