Nemours helps parents address pros and cons of social media use among teens

Aug. 22, 2003

Nearly 40% of tweens, ages 8 to 12, use social media, and of those, 20% use it every day. Nearly all teens use social media daily, and at least one-third use sites like YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat almost constantly.

For many parents and family members who care for children, those numbers are concerning, given growing research linking social media use and mental health. To help them better navigate the social media landscape, Nemours Children’s Health offered a free virtual webinar on the topic July 25.

In addition to sharing those statistics, Dr. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, a pediatrician, and Dr. Linda Charmaraman, a senior research scientist, discussed the pros and cons of social media use and offered tips to help parents guide their children in using the platforms in healthy ways.

“Social media is important to children. However, as parents and caregivers, it’s important to understand it and make sure that it’s a safe environment for our children.” — Dr. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, pediatrician

While acknowledging the positives — that social media helps children build social connections and offers learning opportunities — they also described the relationship between mental health and social media as “tricky.”

Here’s why:

  • News does not equal truth.
  • Correlation does not equal causation.
  • Quantity does not equal quality in terms of time online.

Existing health conditions — ADHD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders — can also affect how children experience social media, the pair said. Childrens’ individual differences, communities and relationships and the social climate are additional factors.

Ben-Joseph and Charmaraman stressed that all children are not affected by social media the same way.

“Social media is important to children,” Ben-Joseph said. “However, as parents and caregivers, it’s important to understand it and make sure that it’s a safe environment for our children.”

Warning signs of unhealthy social media use

  • Spending more time than intended on the platforms.
  • Lying or deceptive behavior to retain access.
  • Avoidance of in-person social interactions in favor of online connections.
  • Excessive effort to have continuous access to social media.

Tips for parents

  • Educate, supervise and set boundaries.
  • Model healthy social media use and have active dialogue about it.
  • For children just starting to use social media, choose a platform with limited visual sharing, such as group chats like WhatsApp.
  • Determine which platforms interest them and their friends and then help them choose ones that enable them to express their interests in healthy ways.
  • Make sure they know there is an adult they can turn to when they need help.
  • For teens who are showing signs they have been negatively affected by social, do your best to be there for them and make them feel comfortable enough to talk to you.


* By Thomas Williams, a 2023 Public Ally and communications and storytelling liaison for Embrace Families Foundation.