This week, Dr. Suzanne Sampang of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center joins host Travis Nipper to discuss the implications of use and overuse of social media for our youth. Dr. Sampang shares the positives and negatives of social media, warning signs to look for with your youth, and some helpful tips on how to have a healthy relationship (and relationships) with social media.

Listen to Episode 13

Travis introduces our guest, Dr. Suzanne Sampang, and she introduces herself. She is a child and adolescent psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where she is currently the Senior Medical Director there. (1:16)

Jumping into the topic, Travis asks Dr. Sampang what type of data or anecdotes she has seen regarding the rise of mental health issues in youth. Dr. Sampang describes how we are in an unprecedented time especially with screens dominating the time of our young people. She shares that 75% of teenagers report to having at least one social media profile, and half of those say they visit a social media site daily. She shares that from 2000-2019, electronic entertainment and media usage has doubled. She further goes onto relate that to mental health, both for better or worse. Dr. Sampang notes that teen pregnancy as well as drug and alcohol use has declined since this same time. She combats that with the idea that has the cost of displacing a healthy balanced life for kids, specifically things like sleep, in person socialization, exercise, and family time. She notes that kids who have higher screen times are at higher risk of depression or other mental health issues. (2:13)

The two reaffirm the fact that it is very important to be aware of  what your kids are doing online. (5:28)

Suzanne discusses how this effects brain development. She notes that there are both pros and cons. In moderation, age-appropriate games and media intake can be very healthy in terms of learning and socialization. However, she says that anything to an extreme can be hurtful—in this case it can result in less time socializing with friends or family, poor in-person social skills, less time spent on other hobbies, or even have a negative effect on learning or academic performance. Additionally, she talks about how it can hurt kids’ physical health taking away time from sleep and exercise. (5:46)

Travis asks our guest about the prevalence of cyber-bullying. Dr. Sampang starts by answering that the data has shown that half of teenagers have been bullied online. She adds that the same number have been on the other side of that as perpetrators. She also highlights the fact that cyber-bullying can happen 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and that sometimes it can even be entirely anonymous. Additionally, she says that once it put out on the internet it is much harder to be forgotten or left in the past due to the higher level of complication. (7:54)

Pivoting to specific social media use, Travis asks about the impact of academic screen time that comes with COVID-19. Dr. Sampang says that it can be so easy for kids to try to multitask and in turn, get distracted and hurt their learning efforts. She adds that it can be very easy to fall behind on work or in class ,which results in much greater stress down the road. Dr. Sampang also talks about the in-between times that are being lost like individual time with a teacher or after school activities. (10:37)

The two then talk about potential warning signs that our kids are struggling with isolation or suicidal ideation. Suzanne notes that some type of content on social media, such as angry or hopeless comments, can be important signifiers. Furthermore, she says that even comments about important things not mattering as much could be a sign of depression or suicidal thoughts. She also recommends that parents can take note of behavioral signs like sleeping or eating habits, or their complete absence of activity online. (13:43)

Dr. Sampang adds that knowing about and taking part in your kids’ online presence as well as talking to them about what they see can be very beneficial for parents to further an informative relationship of trust. She also says that kids having a robust life outside of the online space can ground them when they are exposed to this content. Dr. Sampang adds an anecdotal story about a young adolescent girl who was exposed to models and fashion online and how that translated to her changing her behavior for the worse. (16:10)

Suzanne says that there is no appropriate age for social media, but also that many platforms do have age restrictions for a reason. She notes that in many cases a kid can feel behind if they are too young but many of their friends are on the social media site. Dr. Sampang says the level of supervision or allowance depends largely on the maturity of the child. (19:11)

Switching to discuss specific platforms, Dr. Sampang first talks about how there are always going to be new platforms that are very different. She highlights this idea with an example that playing Call of Duty is very different than a zoom call with their grandparents. Her best advice is to know what platforms their kids are using and explore it on their own. (21:03)

The two discuss how online mistakes are great opportunities to discuss responsible social media use as well as the downstream consequences in order to share a good lesson. (23:00)

Dr. Sampang adds that parenting is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. Like, for example, if a parent has a nervous child then they could see content that could instill fear in them. Or an angry child could be susceptible to copycat behavior. Or a more mellow child could want to spend too much of their time stuck to the couch taking in online content. Finally, she says that taking a moderate stance is the best way to go—as opposed to thinking that it’s the worst thing that happened to this generation or that it is absolutely no big deal. Both sides of the spectrum can be true, and social media can have both positive and negative effects on our kids. (24:00)


Dr. Suzanne Sampang – Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

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