South Ga. experts react to congressional focus on social media’s effects on children

Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 12:28 PM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Members of Congress are aiming to crack down on some social media platforms, including Instagram, because of new information about how the app impacts children’s physical and mental health.

“It’s like any tool. If it’s not used properly, it can have very negative effects,” said Todd Lynch, vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Moultrie.

Lynch said he is glad there is a renewed interest in social media’s effects on children.

Todd Lynch is the vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Moultrie.
Todd Lynch is the vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Moultrie.(WALB/Zoom)

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced last month that internal research from Instagram’s parent company, Meta, showed the platform is linked to higher physical and mental health risks for young people.

That can include depression, eating disorders and even suicide.

“Until this information became public and until Congress asked them to testify about this information, they really didn’t do anything about it,” said Jonathan Carter, an assistant professor of communication at Georgia Southwestern State University.

Carter said it’s good that Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri testified before a Senate panel in December, because it raises awareness.

So, how can parents protect the mental and physical health of their children?

“Be present and aware of your child’s social media usage,” Lynch said. “If you need to reduce screen time, if you have to restrict it, do so.”

He also said parents should pay attention to changes in their children’s moods.

“If they’re having unrealistic expectations, which they may be gaining from seeing these different posts on social media,” Lynch said. “If they become withdrawn — they’re normally interacting, but are spending a lot more time in their room on their phones.”

Jonathan Carter is an assistant professor of communication at Georgia Southwestern State...
Jonathan Carter is an assistant professor of communication at Georgia Southwestern State University.(WALB/Zoom)

Carter said parents may not want to focus on one single app, because the apps your kids use will change.

“Just regulating Instagram on your kid’s phone or something like that isn’t going to be enough to stop the pressures of these types of things,” Carter said.

Instead, consider an ongoing and serious conversation with them about how to protect their mental health.

“It’s much more about helping them understand kind of how to consume media better,” Carter said.

Instagram announced a feature that urges teenagers to take breaks from the platform, in hopes of discouraging teens from spending too much time on the app.

The company also planned to announce more parental controls in the near future.

Attorney General Carr is also joining several other states in an investigation into techniques Meta uses to boost how often and how long young users are engaging in the social media platforms.

Copyright 2021 WALB. All rights reserved.

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