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Helping to guard your child against the shadow side of social media

The rate of teenage suicide is rising, putting the spotlight on the factors contributing to childhood depression and anxiety.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, Refiloe Mpakanyane chats to parenting expert Nikki Bush about the pressures kids face today, which range from dealing with family conflicts to living in a country broadly perceived as hostile.

Bush highlights three factors which are intertwined - parental contribution, social media and technology.

And if loneliness also comes into play, kids tend to rely on technology to "feel better", but of course this doesn't last.

It doesn't tick the box that a human being with a pulse would tick. It provides a lot of distraction, but it doesn't actually make them feel better.

Nikki Bush, Parenting expert

Especially if children don't have much parental supervision says Bush, the time spent using technology and social media to try and fill a void also results in a vicious cycle, too little sleep feeding back into feelings of depression and anxiety.

Then there is the pressure of living up to the perfect world usually depicted in friends' social media posts.

We only post pictures of our perfect moments. Even if we're dying inside we put on the right smile on social media.

Nikki Bush, Parenting expert

She says the effects are two-fold: we compare ourselves socially to others and as a result we strive for perfection.

Social media can also fuel hysteria about events happening around us, leading to a loss of perspective.

Recently there was AmINext and MeToo - there was certainly good stuff that came out of that but there's also the fear mongering and hysteria that came out of it too.

Nikki Bush, Parenting expert

Bush says the one repercussion of social media that is particularly pertinent to teenagers, is the fear of rejection.

If we are rejected by the group, that can be the thing that sends a child over the edge.

Nikki Bush, Parenting expert

If they (teenagers) don't get a response from their friends within two seconds, they feel incredible rejection. They would rather that someone said something horrible back, than nothing at all.

Nikki Bush, Parenting expert

How can parents help guard against the shadow side of social media interaction?

Bush says children need to be taught not to give their hearts to something which is not human.

A screen doesn't have a pulse.

Nikki Bush, Parenting expert

She says the negative effects of constantly being tethered to technology also applies to younger children, where the rewards they get from for instance playing games on a tablet, is replacing the comfort of the traditional security blanket or "blankie".

Because this stimulus is all external, it doesn't foster self-belief.

Bush emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries with your children.

Those cellphones need to be kept in a neutral place where kids can't get hold of them at night.

Nikki Bush, Parenting expert

One of the worst things that can happen to a teenager is that they open that cellphone and get a bad message just before they go to sleep.

Nikki Bush, Parenting expert

Find out about Nikki Bush's "Children Living in the Red Zone" initiative here.

She will be hosting a talk in Boksburg on 19 November at the Woodlands International College starting at 10 for 10:30 am. Find more details here.

Click on the link below for advice on the conversations you should be having with your children:


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