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Kansas City health experts confront social media's affect on teen mental wellbeing

Child, adolescent psychologist shares insight
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Posted at 7:01 AM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 10:49:44-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The recent testimony before Congress by a whistleblower from Facebook on the company's practices, algorithms and applications - like Instagram - has put the effects of social media on teenage mental health back in the spotlight.

KSHB 41 spoke to Dr. Ram Chettiar, a child and adolescent psychologist with Children’s Mercy about the recent trends.

He said that in addition to seeing recent rising incidences of depression and anxiety, he's been confronting screen time/social media use for a decade.

"Teenagers these days are not getting that connection like they used to in previous generations," Chettiar said. "So, even though they're connected, they're very lonely. We're seeing these curated posts that everyone is putting up with the filters and the exciting things, and it creates a lot of FOMO, which is a fear of missing out, that can contribute to symptoms of anxiety, where kids feel like their lives are not as exciting. They feel left out, It can contribute to lower self-esteem."

He added that framing the conversation in a new way is also key.

"Dopamine response to social media is similar to dopamine response to certain substances, and it affects similar areas of the brain," Chettiar said. "Just as you might think of having an addiction to substances, when you take social media away from teenagers, you can expect withdrawal symptoms and it can be difficult, and we have to work through some of that as well. So, framing it as an addiction sounds alarming, but in fact, it's very similar in processes in the brain with how that works."

With teens spending hours on their phones per day, solutions are attainable for families who want to cut back on screen time, not eliminate it.

"The negative impact that phones have had on sleep is highly detrimental to a teenage developing brain," Chettiar said. "So, that first and foremost, kids should not be on their phones in the middle of the night. Number two, having security settings is important so a lot of teenagers have their profiles public, you can very easily make it secure where strangers aren't able to add people or connect or see your profile. That's just a safety measure because we do see that there is high risk of cyberbullying."

He also recommended intentional screen-free time, like in the car and at the dinner table, where in-person interactions happen.