Social media can be detriment to kids’ mental health

Published 3:01 am Wednesday, February 6, 2019

There are several things that can cause mental illness in a child, and aspects of social media contribute to problems, Covington County child behavioral therapist Lisa Patterson said.

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, and Patterson shared what she has seen in the world of children’s behavioral therapy.

“I don’t know if there is a main thing that causes mental illness in children,” Patterson said. “Trauma is a big one, it can be hereditary or it can be the environment. If you have a parent that is severely mentally ill and they aren’t taking care of it that could cause instability in the child’s life. That’s not saying that somebody with a mental illness is a bad parent, but if they don’t manage it then that could cause some instability, which could effect the child’s life.”

She said that the rise in social media correlates to the rise of mental illnesses in children.

“I don’t think that it could be a definite cause of mental illness, because there are some aspects to social media that are good,” Patterson said. “If they are already struggling with something then I could see how it could cause some issues. For example, if a girl is already struggling with cutting herself, while on the one hand seeking out a support group on the Internet would be a positive thing, it may also cause a trigger. It’s like anything in moderation is good.”

With more kids glued to a screen, Patterson said it is causing a lack of social interaction.

“The way to communicate now with the younger generation is through text,” Patterson said. “I love texting, it’s a lot easier to communicate with people, but texting, Facebook and other social media is all you do, then you will it could cause some issues down the road.”

Patterson said that bullying also contributes to mental illness in children.

“I think bullying has increased with social media,” Patterson said. “Because again, I don’t think some of the kids even feel responsible for what they are saying online. They don’t see it as big of a deal, but it goes back to the environment and in this generation that is how they communicate.”

She said that out of the cases she has seen about 75 percent of them stem from bullying.

“It is definitely a huge contributor,” Patterson said. “The children are already in a state of vulnerability and then when you add bullying on top of that, it gets worse.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first 8 years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success.

“When you introduce social media to these children at a young age, you are introducing a stimulant, like nicotine or drugs,” Patterson said. “Their brains are still developing. It’s an instant validation when they receive a text, or get a like on Facebook. Their brains aren’t ready for that, because they are not able to rationalize things like adults can. We often think of children as little adults, but that’s not the case. Even as adults we kind of like receiving that text, because we think, ‘Oh, somebody likes me.’ Most people do struggle with self esteem issues as well.”

The criteria for diagnosing a person to seek help for mental illness, Patterson said, is to ask the parent if it is causing a problem at home or at school.

“If somebody comes in and wants me to see their child because they think they might be ADHD, my questions are going to be, what kind of problems are they causing at home, and is it causing any problems in any other situation like school or church,” Patterson said. “If that answer is no, then the odds are it’s not an ADHD issue.”

If people are wondering if their child is struggling with mental illness, Patterson said that some things to notice when people’s children are in middle school are if their grades dropping, hanging out with new friends that don’t fit their personality, acting out of character and keeping to themselves a lot.

“Middle schoolers are experimenting a lot,” Patterson said. “They are trying to find themselves. A lot of the time, I find several middle school-aged girls who are cutting, and a lot of the time in that group, there is only one, what I would call, a true cutter. That is someone who actually has something going on. The other ones are going to be mimicking the other girls because they think it’s the cool thing to do right now. To truly know if their illness is real or not, you have to look at the signs and most importantly, talk to them.”

Patterson said that in the end, parents are going to know better than any psychiatrist or therapist.

“Parents know their children better than any counselor or therapist,” Patterson said. “So they should be able to pick up on the changes. The first thing that I would do if they notice some changes would be to call the school counselor or ask their teacher if they are seeing any problems.”