Should a social media checkup be part of a child’s yearly physical?

Pediatric group recommends doctors ask teens about social media use

Most expect a visit to the pediatrician’s office to include questions about physical health, but some doctors say it’s time to also start asking kids, particularly teens, about their social media habits.

A new editorial in the medical journal Pediatrics calls on pediatricians and other health care providers who specialize in caring for children and adolescents to ask questions on what kinds of apps kids are using and how much time they spend on social media. Researchers say gathering information on teenagers’ social media activities may provide a more complete picture of their risk for mental health concerns.

All Norton Children’s Medical Group practices already ask patients and their parents about social media use. It includes asking patients how much time they spend on social media per day. This can lead to questions about whether they think they spend too much time on social media, if they’ve experienced cyberbullying and if they think social media impacts their self-esteem.

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“Research shows excessive social media usage may contribute to teens developing depression, stress and anxiety,” said Stephen K. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., pediatrician and child psychologist with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Springhurst. “It’s important to ask questions and start a conversation to find out what’s really going on.”

Dr. Johnson adds that social media checkups also need to happen outside of the doctor’s office. He offers tips parents can use year-round:

• Understand what your teen is doing online, including learning about the sites and apps they’re using.
• Communicate what you consider to be appropriate behavior and establish consequences for if they cross that line.
• Set screen limits. Examples include no phones at the meal table or removing the device from the bedroom before bedtime.
• If you’re concerned or have question about your teen’s social media use, talk to them.