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Cyber-Bullying, Doomscrolling, Loss of Christian Faith: How Social Media Is Harming Our Kids

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Mental health experts and Christian parents are sounding the alarm about the negative impact social media is having on our younger generation. Teenagers are experiencing a mental health crisis that is likely linked to time spent on sites like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and more. 

The CDC reports more than 44 percent of U.S. high school students surveyed reported feeling hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row. More than half of teenage girls reported feeling persistently sad, a 10-year high, according to government data.  At the same time, teens are spending increasing amounts of time of social media, with nearly half reporting being "almost constantly" online, according to Pew Research Center

Daniel Amen, M.D., adult and child psychiatrist, told CBN News while the statistics are frightening, they are not surprising, considering the very nature of social media.

"It was developed by people in Silicon Valley who understand addiction, and they, (the sites), were created to be addictive," he said. Pointing to the efforts of social media company executives, Amen said, "They want more brain time because more brain time means more money." 

This desire of social media companies to want consumers to spend more brain time on their platforms happens even though they know, in some cases, that can be damaging, according to former Facebook executive-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen who testified before a Senate committee. 

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"Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia," she said, citing the company's own research that reveals their platforms can erode many aspects of a teenager's well-being. "When Facebook is asked questions directly as important as, 'How do you impact the health and safety of our children?' They choose to mislead and misdirect."

Cyber-Bullying, Doomscrolling, Body Issues

Mental health experts blame social media overuse for many of the psychological challenges kids face today.  Licensed psychologist Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD, told CBN News she counsels young people who are suffering the ill effects of this technology, as are many of her peers. 

"It's definitely becoming a big, big issue that mental health clinicians are seeing," she said. 

Dr. Rubenstein said too many teens feel bad about themselves compared to other people they see on social media, people who seem to be a lot happier and better looking, when in reality, they are neither. 

"I think body image is one of the major places where we're starting to see some real impact," she said. "Especially with all the filtering that has been happening, and all the apps you can now use to make yourself look like a completely different person." 

Cyber-bullying is another major source of teen angst. 

"The cancel culture of, if you do something that someone feels is skewed or incorrect, you are pretty much bullied and ostracized," explained Dr. Rubenstein.

She said another cause for concern is the all-too-common activity known as "doomscrolling," which is compulsively seeking-out disturbing content that deepens a person's already existing feelings of fear, depression, and hopelessness. 

"You're on your phone, you're scrolling, you feel awful, and you're looking for more that kind of confirms that feeling on social media," Dr. Rubenstein said. "It's almost automatic. You don't even realize you're doing it. And it leaves you in a pretty icky, doom-like mental state where nothing feels good. And it's pretty scary."

Impact on Christian Faith

In addition to poor mental health, some Christians believe too much time spent on social media sites can lead to poor spiritual health, especially among teenagers. 

Kelly Newcom, author of Managing Media, Creating Character: Using the Technology Kids Crave to Develop the Character God Desires, and founder of Brave Parenting an organization dedicated to helping parents manage their children's online activity, told CBN News that social media is more harmful to Christian teens than most parents realize.

"A lot of people think that kids will maybe walk away from their faith when they leave high school and go to college. I don't believe that at all," she said. "I think most children will start walking away from their faith when they get their smart phones and they get social media, because it's teaching them such a different world view, different from the Bible."

She said Christian values contradict the foundations of social media, such as embracing idolatry. 

"It's the pursuit of being worshipped," she said. "Ultimately social media puts you on a platform. So instead of worshipping the one true God, we find ourselves desiring that fame and worship of self." 

She said the nature of social media is deceptive, which is the opposite of Christianity.

"Scripture is all about truth. All the scripture that we have is God's word and it is truth," she said. "Nothing on social media has to actually be true in order for it to be promoted." 

Reducing Time Spent on Social Media

While it can be difficult for young people to reduce the amount of time they spend on social media, research shows it can help kids feel better. In one such study, teenage girls who cut their use by half for just a few weeks reported significantly improved mental health.

Parents can help their kids cut back by first setting a good example.

"One of the reasons our generation right now feels so isolated and so hopeless is because as they were growing up, our eyes were not on them," Newcom said. "Our eyes were on our own phones." 

Experts recommend creating boundaries regarding what a child can do online and for how long. 

"Your kids won't like it," said Dr. Rubenstein, "and that's OK." 

Parental control apps like Bark and Net Nanny can help enforce the rules parents set for their children. 

Frank Fox, group chief executive officer of SafeToNet told CBN News how Net Nanny works. 

"Harmful content is identified and blocked, and this is very important, in real time. And parents are provided insight into their children's digital behavior," he said. "Our mission is to protect kids online."

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In addition to limiting time spent on social media, experts say it helps if parents talk to the parents of their children's friends and agree to setting the same limits.  On top of that, parents can help fill the time their children no longer spend on social media by arranging in-person gatherings for their teens. 

"We're making sure that they're still getting together," Newcom said. "They're having that face-to-face. They're not feeling isolated. Because they're still in real, authentic, relationships. You know, what we had when we grew up." 


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