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Digging Deeper: Is being constantly connected on social media affecting health of our youth?

MADISON (WKOW) — Social media keeps us constantly connected and billions of us around the world use it.

But when it comes to your kids, how much is too much?

It’s a concept Madison researchers are tracking.

“Our team is the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) and we focus on studies that look at the intersection of adolescent health and technology,” says Dr. Megan Moreno of UW Health.

She is the principal investigator and has been studying this for a decade.

“I’ve seen kids with newly diagnosed chronic conditions that feel totally accepted and connected by finding a community of teens with other conditions online,” she says. “I’ve also seen kids who have bullied each other, who have been approached by predators, who have negative interactions, who haven’t gotten jobs because they’ve posted something.”

Now she’s enlisted the help of teens from around the state, who talk to researchers about their experiences.

Jared Lemminger, a sophomore from Chippewa Falls, says, “To give your voice for something that’s so important, especially your age group, is really cool to be able to represent that.”

Josh Plasterer is a junior at Madison West and comments, “Adults use social media in a specific manner that is very different from how we use it. If you want to take a look at how social media actually impacts mental health, you need to see how it impacts everybody, not just a specific sliver of the population.”

Dre Bishop is a freshman at UW-Milwaukee. “There are so many influencers on there who you compare your life to their life. Their life is all glitz and glamour and yours just isn’t. It can, not noticeably, but slowly by slowly pick at you until you just feel like you’re not good enough. You want to be like them. The positives are positive, but the negative can be very negative.”

Dr. Moreno has gained a lot of valuable insight from her young team. “The Youth Advisory Board we interact with has been instrumental in helping us to understand what are the key issues that they’re facing, what are the assumptions we’re making that are wrong and also what are some of the solutions.”

It’s no surprise too much time spent on social media can have a big impact on the health of our youth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says it can lead to obesity, sleep problems, poor performance in school and risky behaviors.

But the AAP has shifted away from its recommendation of 2 hours of screen time a day, instead suggesting a Family Media Use Plan, setting guidelines for when and where you can use devices, like cutting screen time an hour before bed.

“What I love about this approach,” says Dr. Moreno, “is it talks about ways to set limits, but it also talks about seeking out and enjoying media you as a family can view together.”

Another key takeaway for parents, talk to your kids and know who they’re talking to online.

The teens on the research team say open communication with their parents is key to staying safe online.

“The easiest based question,” says Bishop, “Are you safe? Are you secure? Is anyone giving you trouble?”

“Technology moves really fast and your adolescent isn’t expecting you to keep up with those trends,” says Dr. Moreno.

Amber Noggle

Anchor, 27 News at 5, 6 and 10

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