Is Video Gaming and Online Social Networking Bad For Your Health?

It is a disturbing trend that the health of kids and teens today is not always what it should be. While many adults have turned to assisted living or long term care due to their health circumstances, the same can not be said for our youth. There are a multitude of preventable illnesses and diseases that plague our youth, and the solutions lie in early intervention and prevention.

As parents, it is important to ensure that we provide a healthy environment for our kids and teens. This begins with the types of medication they are taking. Research shows that kids and teens who receive anti-depressant medications in high doses as well as those with ADHD are at higher risks for developing depression and other mental health disorders. Are parents fueling the fire by turning to prescription drugs for their kids? And what about the youth who are not medicated but still are exhibiting warning signs of depression, anxiety, substance abuse or other mental health issues?

The trend toward providing prescription drugs to kids has been substantiated by the National Institute of Mental Health which highlighted in a recent report the link between untreated depression and suicidal thoughts among adolescents. Can teens who do not have the benefit of antidepressants, medication and screen time without negative consequences actually develop lasting mental health issues? What about those teens who gain access to smartphones, tablets or virtual school technology or the other myriad of technology gadgets? Is there a link between the increase in screen time and poor grades?

It seems that while most kids would prefer to stay in their bedrooms doing their school work or studying instead of being out in the hallways playing video games, most also would like the option to go outside, get some exercise or be outdoors and socialize with friends. It’s almost as if they crave the stimulation of being outdoors. But what of the dangers? Are the benefits worth the risk?

Social Media has a direct impact on teens’ self-image, particularly when they engage in “selfies,” uploading their own image to the Internet in hopes of being noticed or being part of an upcoming photo shoot. Inevitably, most teens cannot wait to share these images with everyone, especially their peers, on social media. But does this mean that they are at greater risk of developing an unhealthy self-image? Could the easy social distancing afforded through virtual isolation be a cause for concern?

One of the challenges cited with kids gaining access to social media is that the virtual world offers virtually unbound communication and connection. Everything is fair game, literally, including peer pressure and embarrassment. It’s easy to see how in-person social experiences can develop into unhealthy associations for youngsters. The mere idea of dealing with peers can elicit feelings of aggression, anxiety, fear or other undesirable mental health behaviors. In many cases, these “newbies” do not know how to navigate these new relationships and health risks can ensue.

Concerns have also been raised over the potential psychological effects of such environments. Many children and adolescents (especially those with parents who are themselves suffering from mental health issues) can use social media sites as a means of seeking support and relief from stress and anxiety. But there is also a darker side to too much “virtual friendship.” Unhealthy thoughts can persist and develop in these relationships which can lead to unhealthy outcomes. Is it possible that in families across different lines of income and social status, the dynamics are different and the impact is greater?

The bottom line: screen time alone may not be dangerous. It may be more dangerous than walking around with a handheld video recorder (which most kids would not even dream of doing). But if a child spends too much time alone in a room without a parent or guardian, they can easily “game” the system and become isolated. They may need help from family and friends to build virtual relationships that foster healthy interaction and communication.