DENVER, Colo. — You might want to rethink being too strict with your kids’ screen time, because being online could help boost their confidence. A new study from a team at Michigan State University found that students who were more connected online had higher self-esteem and spent more time in person with friends and family.
Miana Bryant has experienced the power of online connection herself. She’s seen the good and the bad of social media, but overall she’s found positivity and community in being online. It has been an integral part of his journey to healing his own mental health.
“I was initially diagnosed with major depressive disorder,” Bryant said. “It definitely kind of led me to have the symptoms of mentally checking out, not really wanting to interact with people and not wanting to go to class, not having an appetite.”
As a college student, Bryant felt detached from her peers and from herself, but she was able to get on the right path by connecting with friends struggling with similar difficulties.
“We kind of started a group chat just to check in on each other, which then turned into meetings every two weeks, which then slowly grew into an organization,” Bryant said.
Bryant now runs a non-profit organization called The Mental Elephant Inc. It’s an online mental health resource for young people struggling with self-esteem.
“Our mission is definitely to provide awareness, services and resources to people in need,” Bryant said.
She found that connecting with other people online helped improve her mental health.
“For me, personally, being connected online has allowed me to connect better with other students and other kids that I didn’t necessarily know and try to be able to kind of create that bond and necessarily spread the information,” Bryant said. .
Now, Michigan State University professor and researcher Keith Hampton has data to back up what Bryant felt through a new study.
“We argue that disconnection is inherently more problematic for social isolation than your screen time,” Hampton said.
Hampton interviewed teens and young people who lacked internet access, either because they lived in rural communities or because their parents limited their screen time. He found that young people with less internet access had lower self-esteem than those who used the internet a lot.
“These technologies, whether it’s social media or video games, are just deeply embedded in how young people play, how they communicate, and young people who aren’t able to engage in these activities suffer serious self-esteem consequences,” Hampton said.
“It prevents kids from learning and grasping concepts on their own, and it kind of limits them to their parents’ worldview,” Bryant said, of young people with limited internet access.
This restriction can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Students lose more when they are deprived of online information and collaborations.
Hampton said expanding internet access to rural communities and ensuring young people in urban communities have access to the internet on a computer, not just a phone, will help our young people have better self-esteem. .
“We find that young people who spend more time on screens actually spend more time coordinating other activities and participating in in-person activities with family and friends,” Hampton said. “For about every hour that we found young people spend on social media, they spend about 21 extra minutes with friends and about six extra minutes with family members.”
For Bryant, she hopes other teens and their parents will recognize the positive power of going online and use it to improve their health for years to come.
“It’s definitely been a journey, but a good one, because I feel like with my own personal issues, I was able to turn it into something that can help others recognize their personal issues and get help the same way I was able to get help,” Bryant said.
Hampton and Bryant both recognize the negative power of being online, so they encourage parents and teens to talk about what young people are using the internet for instead of restricting access altogether.
For the full Michigan State University study, click HERE.
For The Mental Elephant resources, click HERE.
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