For the media

Is my child spending too much time online?

By The Health News Team | July 24, 2023
Boy on his device

The U.S. Surgeon General recently released an advisory on the effects of social media use on the mental health of children and teens. Although the advisory recognizes the benefits of social media, including providing a space for positive connections with others, it also highlights several potential risks.

Dr. Kelsey Bradshaw, clinical psychologist of the Child and Adolescent Inpatient Program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, says the effects of social media on youth, especially excessive use, can be problematic.

“In many ways, social media can be helpful for young people to safely stay connected with their friends,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “But as they’re growing and figuring out their identity, spending too much time on social media may influence them to try to fit unrealistic ideals or unhealthy identities.”

According to the advisory, studies have found adolescent girls and those with already poor mental health can be negatively affected by social media use. Some of these adverse effects include cyberbullying-related depression, poor sleep quality and body image, and disordered eating behaviors.

How many kids are on social media — and for how long?

Currently, 40% of children ages 8 to 12 use social media, with the percentage rising to 95% for youths ages 13 to 17. More than a third of the latter group say they use social media almost constantly.

Dr. Bradshaw says that some information on social media can be entertaining, supportive or helpful. But at times, it may be overwhelming, inaccurate or unhealthy. A young person spending excessive time — three hours per day or more — on social media can be a warning sign of poor mental health.

In fact, the advisory includes one study that determined U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 15 who spent more than three hours per day on social media faced double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. These include symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“If your child is blocking out opportunities to do other things and prefers to stick to using social media, that could be a cause for concern, especially if you notice a change in their mood and behavior,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

To support a child’s mental health, Dr. Bradshaw encourages parents and guardians to talk with their kids about social media. “Have early and ongoing conversations about how they’re feeling and the influence of social media,” he says. “Reach out to them if you think they’re going through something.”

Moreover, it is important to set expectations around social media use early on. And help children be aware of the dangers and risks while also monitoring social media use to address problems that may arise.

Mental health issues among U.S. youth are widespread, Dr. Bradshaw notes, and more data is needed to establish exactly how social media influences adolescents’ mental health. In the meanwhile, parents and guardians should play an active role in how their child interacts with others online.

“Sometimes, the guardians taking the first step to talk with their child can be very helpful,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “But if your child needs more help, there are resources, such as ones that our hospital provides, for more intensive help.”

Learn about Sharp Mesa Vista’s behavioral health services for children and teens; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Bradshaw about this topic, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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