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Parents should limit their own time on social media for their kids' mental health, study says

A new study out of BYU is looking at the influence of social media on the mental health of children.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — How much time kids spend on social media, might not be reliable predictors of mental health issues like depression, according to a new study from The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University.

Instead, factors like parents' own time on social media might play bigger roles than previously known. 

Parents social media habits

It's not just about how much time kids spend on social media, parents' own habits have a large role too.

Researchers at the The Wheatley Institution found the less time parents unhealthy social media habits of their own, may put their children at risk. 

"Parent media use is an even stronger predictor of their child’s mental health than the child’s own social media use," the report says. 

The study found 50% of kids report that their parents allow technology to interfere with their relationship. 

"When [kids'] parents are focusing solely or exclusively on their own social media or on their own phones, this leads to children feeling isolated, ignored, and ultimately devalued," Spencer James, associate professor in BYU's School of Family Life and author of the report, said.  "Parents media habits detract from their ability to intentionally connect with their children."

Engagement on social media

This new report makes several unique findings, including that it's not about how much time kids spend on social media, It's about how they engage with it. 

"I would say that not all social media is bad. In fact, some is very, very good," James said. 

He adds it's all about the context that you use it in. 

"Adolescents who were actively engaged, who are actively making positive comments, and seeking to engage with other people online to connect with them. That was actually protective of depression,” James said.  

Smartphone timing

When it comes to what age kids should get a smartphone, researchers found there is no "ideal" age, but The study found children who got their phone earlier in life, had slightly better outcomes than kids who got their phone later. 

However, getting a phone earlier, isn't necessarily better. The study found that parents should use a "child-specific approach" for smartphone timing decisions.

Transgender kids need social media to connect

James said for cisgender kids, a break from social media was associated with positive outcomes, that wasn't the case for transgender and non-binary kids. 

When this group was asked to take a break from social media, it was actually harmful to their mental health. 

"For many transgender and non-binary youth, their worlds are not often safe places, their worlds are not often places where they're loved, accepted and find like minded people, James said.  "They're online communities, because they get to create those, they are good places for them.

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