Disconnection can damage teens’ self-esteem more than excessive internet use
Denver, Colorado. You may want to rethink being very strict with your children’s screen time because going online can help boost their confidence. New research by a team at Michigan State University found that students who were more connected online had higher self-esteem and spent more time with friends and family.
Miana Bryant experienced the power of online communication herself. I’ve seen the pros and cons of social media, but I’ve generally found positivity and community through being online. It has been an integral part of her journey into her mental health treatment.
“I was originally diagnosed with major depressive disorder,” Bryant said. “It definitely kind of made me feel symptoms of mental examination, not really wanting to interact with people and not wanting to go to class, not having an appetite.”
As a college student, Bryant felt disconnected from her peers and herself, but she was able to get on the right track—by connecting with friends with similar difficulties.
“We kind of started out as a group chat to check on each other, and then it turned into biweekly meetings, and then slowly evolved into an organization,” Bryant said.
Bryant now runs a non-profit organization called The Mental Elephant Inc. It is an online mental health resource for young people with low self-esteem.
“Our job is definitely to provide awareness, services and resources to the people who need them,” Bryant said.
She found that connecting with others online helped her fix her mental health.
“For me, personally, being online has allowed me to better connect with other students and other kids that I didn’t necessarily know, and I try to be able to build that bond and necessarily get information,” Bryant said. .
Now, Michigan State University professor and researcher Keith Hampton has data to back up what Bryant felt with a new study.
“We argue that separation is inherently more problematic for social isolation than time spent on screen,” Hampton said.
Hampton surveyed teens and young adults who had no internet access either because they lived in rural communities, or their parents restricted their screen time. It was found that young people who have less access to the Internet have worse self-confidence than those who use the Internet a lot.
“These technologies, whether it’s social media or video games, are deeply embedded in how young people play and how they communicate, and young people, you know, who are unable to participate in these activities suffer severe self-esteem consequences,” Hampton said.
“It prevents children from being able to learn and understand concepts on their own, and somewhat limits them to their parents’ view of the world,” Bryant said of young adults with limited access to the Internet.
This restriction can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. Students lose more when they miss the information and collaboration that occurs online.
Hampton said that expanding Internet access in rural communities and making sure that young people in urban communities have access to the Internet on a computer, not just a phone, will help our young people improve their self-esteem.
“We find that young people who spend more time on screens spend more time coordinating other activities and engaging in personal activities with family and friends,” Hampton said. “For approximately every hour we found that young people spend on social media, they spend about 21 extra minutes with friends and about six extra minutes with family members.”
For Bryant, she hopes other teens and their parents will realize the positive power of online communication and use that to build better health for years to come.
“It’s definitely been a journey, but it’s a good one, because I feel like with my personal issues, I’ve been able to turn it into something that can help other people learn about their personal issues and be able to get help in the same way,” Bryant said.
Hampton and Bryant both recognize the negative power of the internet’s existence, so they encourage parents and teens to talk about what young people use the internet for rather than restricting access to it entirely.
For the full study from Michigan State University, click here.
For resources from The Mental Elephant, click here.
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