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Fort Worth mental health experts support social media warning labels

The U.S. surgeon general recently called for social media platforms to add warning labels about how their services may affect mental health.
Camilo Diaz
/
Fort Worth Report
The U.S. surgeon general recently called for social media platforms to add warning labels about how their services may affect mental health.

Social media left Shaiza Liaqat feeling isolated during her teenage years.

She compared herself to the image others presented of themselves and felt insecure.

“Everything just looks too perfect. You don’t see that person struggling,” Liaqat said.

Now 23 and a rising senior at Texas Wesleyan University, Liaqat still spends plenty of time on social media but knows how to better navigate her mental health. The toll social media can take on teens pushed the U.S. surgeon general to call for warning labels, a move some Tarrant County children’s mental health professionals support.

Elizabeth Brown has seen the impact of social media on young people’s mental health firsthand. Brown is a licensed professional counselor supervisor at Lena Pope, a child and family service center in Tarrant County that focuses on children’s behavioral, intellectual and emotional well-being.

“Right now, we’re in this position with social media where people just don’t realize it can be detrimental to their child’s brain development,” Brown said.

The brain isn’t fully developed until a person reaches their mid-20s, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Teenagers’ ability to think critically and have self-control is not running at full-steam, Brown said.

A Pew Research Center survey showed 95% of teens use social media, with a third of them using it almost constantly.

Helping youth navigate social media

Lena Pope CEO Ashley Elgin shared ways that parents can help their children who already have social media presence.

  • Walk children through scenarios. For example: You see your friends in a group message you are not included in, how are you going to react?
  • Establish screen-free times.
  • Keep phones away from rooms when sleeping.
  • Talk about the difference between what is online and what is reality.
  • Help children develop a healthy sense of self that does not include their social media presence.

Fort Worth parent Mereyda Munoz plans to keep her 8-year-old daughter off of social media until she is 16.

“Children are so distracted on their phones,” Munoz said.

Social media can negatively impact young people, Munoz said. She has seen teens act up and use language they normally wouldn’t. They also are sometimes exposed to provocative content at too early of an age, she said.

Liaqat has seen social media have a positive impact through her experience as a marketing major. Social media has brought people together and has helped online-only businesses flourish, she said.

Adding a warning label to social media likely won’t be effective, Liaqat said.

“I would definitely look into the warning if it popped up on my phone, but I do not think it would affect my consumption of social media,” Liaqat said.

Social media can decrease the number of face-to-face interactions a young person has, leading to a deficit in social skills and social anxiety, Brown said.

“Social media gives adolescents an escape from difficult experiences instead of them having to learn how to find solutions and sit with the discomfort,” Brown said.

Warning labels may spread awareness around these issues similar to those found on tobacco and alcohol products, according to the surgeon general. A law requiring social media warning labels has not been proposed in Congress.

If warning labels become reality, Brown hopes more parents will fully understand the effects of social media.

“It is known that social media is bad for you,” Brown said. “But the extent of it is not expressed enough.”

Georgie London is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at georgie.london@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policyhere.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.