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Experts Encourage Parents To Talk With Kids About Social Media's Impacts On Mental Health

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - There are renewed concerns about children and social media after a whistleblower testified to Congress earlier this week.

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen told Congress about the impact sites like Facebook and Instagram have on children and teenagers.

Mental health experts say these dangers can also put more stress on parents.

"Social media is not going anywhere," said Marguerite Ohrtman, the Director of School Counseling and Clinical Training for the University of Minnesota. She wants parents to know the risks when their children use social media.

"It's really important as a parent or guardian and society as a whole to teach a critical eye," she said.

Social media sites Facebook and Instagram have been under the spotlight this week after Haugen testified about the company's practices.

"The way they pick the content in Instagram for young users, for all users, amplifies preferences," said Haugen. "So Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content."

Children are at particular risk of developing mental health issues from social media due to how things are portrayed.

"What we're seeing a lot with mental health is a high rise in anxiety, we see it in depression, we see it with both boys and girls," said Ohrtman.

So it's up to parents to help their children navigate this social media minefield. Ohrtman recommends parents talk to their children about what they are seeing on their favorite apps because not everything is what it seems online.

"They are getting paid to post certain things and they have a team of people to help them with their make-up," said Ohrtman.

She says parents have three tools they can use to keep their children safe: moderation, communication, and trust. Ohrtman says parents should not be letting children spend too much time on the sites, and encourages speaking with kids about what they post and what they are seeing.

"You know your child best, you're your child's expert, in how to communicate to them how to help them become a critical thinker, how to help them be transparent and communicate effectively with you," said Ohrtman.

Because in the end, keeping your children safe is a job all on its own.

"Are you willing to take that extra time and energy to look at what they are posting to be really involved, just like in their school life, are we involved in their social media life?" said Ohrtman.

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