SPARK was excited to co-host a series of talks by Erin Walsh of Mind Positive Parenting in March.  Erin’s topic, “It’s Complicated, Social Media and Mental Health” (and her catchy presentation style!) resonated throughout the region, as more than 700 people participated in one of her three talks.

Erin Walsh of Mind Positive Parenting

SPARK has been thinking about the topic as well.  Working with the Search Institute, SPARK partners redesigned the SPARK survey to include open ended questions to better understand how young people were thinking about their friendships both in person and online.  SPARK published the report “Good Friends… Online & in Person” the day of Erin’s visit.

It’s clear that social media plays an outsized role in the lives of young people.

  • 53 hours a week is the amount of time tweens and teens spend with media outside of school work (Common Sense Media, 2015)
  • 46 percent of Itasca Area youth indicate that they have used social media to build friendships with people they have not met in real life (SPARK, 2019)
  • 45% of teens report that they are online “almost constantly.” (Pew internet and American Life, 2018)
  • 37% of 2-4 year olds have TV’s in their bedrooms. (Common Sense Media, 2013)
  • 1/4th of children go online daily at age 3. (Joan Ganz Cooney Center, 2015)
  • Teens from lower-income families spend an average of 2:45 (that’s nearly 3 hours) more with media per day than teens from higher-income families. (Common Sense Media, 2015)

While these statistics may be alarming, Erin reminds us:

Digital Technologies are not inherently good or bad; they are powerful.

How should we respond?

Erin identified three protective factors for young people as they learn to manage relationships and social media.  Adults can:

  • Build relationships with young people and provide opportunities for young people to build positive relationships with others.
  • Share power with young people and work together to establish boundaries.
  • Participate with young people in their online spaces – ask to play online games, seek their expertise in online spaces.

Though it may not always seem like it, young people want safe and supportive relationships — online and in person.  Provide support as they use their voice.

If you want to learn more or participate in further conversations, contact us.