Developing a Healthy Diet of Internet and Social Media Use
Have you ever heard the saying, “garbage in, garbage out?” We often say it when we’re talking about nutrition for your body, as in, “how can you expect your body to feel good and full of energy when you only eat junk food and sweets?” The answer, of course, is you can’t! What if we applied that same logic to the Internet or social media we use every day?
What do you mean by Internet and digital media use?
So many people are “growing up” on the Internet and social media these days, and it can be hard to imagine a time before we had access to Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Spotify, and Fortnite. More people than ever can access the Internet using their computer, smartphone, tablet, or video game console. And because of the Internet, the digital media we use (especially social media) has changed forever.
The Internet and digital media use: the good, the bad, & the ugly
The good: Using the Internet and different kinds of digital media can be a great way to learn about new ideas and information, become aware of important world events and issues, and even find opportunities to get involved in your community or exercise your rights as a citizen. Social media can allow students to collaborate on school projects and keep families and friends connected who live far away. Using social media and text messaging are highly effective ways of staying in touch or communicating important information. For people who are struggling with different life challenges or feeling left out, the Internet and social media can provide access to valuable support networks and help them to feel more included. From an entertainment standpoint, many people enjoy playing video games or streaming movies, shows, or music using apps or websites. The Internet can also help people learn healthy behaviors and live healthier lives.
The bad: As they say, “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.” According to research studies, adolescents who watch TV more than 5 hours per day are five times more likely to be overweight than those who watch less than 2 hours per day. In fact, spending more time on social media and giving higher numbers of ‘like’s is linked to increased depression. We’ve also learned that using social media a lot or having a mobile device (such as a smartphone) in your room makes it hard to get quality sleep at night. Using digital media around bedtime can even hurt your school performance. Some young people have a hard time controlling their social media use or video game playing, which can result in problems in real life such as failing classes in school, losing contact with friends and family, or even missing out on important opportunities such as a new job. So, just like choosing a healthy, nutritious diet, remember “all things in moderation,” including the Internet and social media use!
The ugly: Studies have shown that some forms of Internet or digital media use can result in young people engaging in behaviors that could be unsafe or cause harm to themselves or others. When young people use media that promotes drinking alcohol, smoking, or having unsafe sexual behaviors, they become more likely to start doing those same behaviors, often before they are physically or emotionally ready. As an example, drinking alcohol before the age of 21 can negatively impact brain development or lead to serious legal problems, such as major fines or getting arrested. Similarly, viewing porn at a young age can lead to problems forming close relationships later in life as well as unhealthy or unrealistic views of sex. And finally, it’s important to be informed about the problem of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is when someone sends, posts, or shares negative, harmful, false, or mean content with the intent to embarrass, humiliate, or in some way harm another person. It can happen anywhere people can view, participate in, or share content. You might think of these last examples of Internet or social media use as being inedible – not fit for human consumption!
So, here are a few suggestions to help you make the most of your Internet and social media use:
- Choose apps or social media that help you to connect and interact with your family, friends, and community in a positive way.
- Choose apps or digital media that help you to express your individual creativity while protecting your safety and identity as much as possible. Remember, even if an app claims to keep your photos or text private, there is always the potential for others to access or share your private information.
- Avoid apps or digital media that promote unhealthy or inappropriate behaviors such as underage drinking, tobacco use, or sexual activity that is either unsafe or disrespectful to you or someone else.
- Report any and all instances of Cyberbullying immediately!
- Whenever you’re in doubt about whether a particular app or type of social media is appropriate or not, remember to ask a trusted adult, such as your parent, guardian, teacher, or school counselor.
- Set a personal goal to use digital media in mindful ways throughout the day. Try not to mindlessly scroll through social media just because you’re bored—instead, try exploring a ‘real life’ hobby such as drawing, writing, cooking, or playing a sport.
- Remember that there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach to using the Internet and social media because we’re all different people with different needs. Consider developing a Family Media Plan for you and your family members using the link below!