As children return to school, two issues are top of mind for parents: the impact of social media and the internet on their children’s lives.

More than half of parents rank mental health issues as a top health concern for their kids and teens, according to the University of Michigan Health Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

Overall, mental health and technology use ranked among the top 10 concerns U.S. parents have about child health-related issues this year, more than a decade ago when parents listed childhood obesity as the top child health concern.

“Parents still view issues that directly affect physical health, such as unhealthy diets and obesity, as important child health concerns. But these have been replaced by concerns about mental health, social media, and screen time,” said Mort Pohl, Co-Director and said Susan Woolford, MD, MPH, Mott’s pediatrician.

Two-thirds of parents are concerned about their children’s increased screen time, including overall screen time and social media use, which ranked first and second on this year’s list of children’s health concerns, according to a nationally representative poll.

“As children start using digital devices and social media at a very young age, parents may struggle with how to properly monitor usage to prevent negative impacts on safety, self-esteem, social relationships and habits that can impact sleep and other areas of health ’” Woolford said.

Previous reports have shown that screen time has become a growing concern for parents during the pandemic. Woolford encourages parents to regularly assess their children’s use of technology and consider limiting use if they see signs of unhealthy interactions or behaviors. Certain social media and device settings can also help protect children.

Mental and emotional health issues are a primary concern.

The poll, based on 2,099 responses collected in February, also shows parents’ continued concern for children’s mental health. Most parents see related topics like depression, suicide, stress, anxiety, and bullying as big problems.

Nearly half of parents expressed concern about the lack of mental health services. “The mismatch between the growing number of adolescents with mental health problems and limited access to mental health services has serious implications for children’s wellbeing,” Woolford said.

Parents also expressed high levels of concern about school violence, Woolford said, which may reflect direct experiences of school shootings or fights and media coverage of such incidents.

Changes in the school environment, such as metal detectors, armed guards and locked doors, and active shooting drills may alert children and parents to the potential for school violence, she added. Parents may struggle with how to manage their own stress and anxiety while trying to reassure their children.

“Parents may want to talk to their children on a regular basis about how safe they feel at school and about the violence they’ve heard about,” Woolford said. “They should tailor messages to the age of the child and refrain from sharing graphic details, while providing reassurance about the safety measures the school is taking.”

Parents in low-income families are more likely to see some children’s health problems as major problems, including depression and suicide, bullying, school violence, unsafe neighborhoods, alcohol and drug use, smoking and vaping, teen pregnancy and sexual activity, abuse Children and neglect, parental stress, discrimination, COVID-19, and health risks from pollution.

Meanwhile, parents from middle- and upper-income households were more likely to view excessive device and social media use as serious problems.

“Parents’ differences in their perceptions of children’s health issues may reflect their daily experiences of environmental challenges, such as unsafe neighborhoods, and the discrimination that children from low-income families may experience more often,” Woolford said.

Concerns about more children’s health problems may be reflected in the group’s increased reporting of parental stress as a big problem, Woolford added.

But parents across income groups rated other topics similarly, including unhealthy diets, obesity, medical costs and lack of mental health services.

Top 10 child health issues include obesity (48%), guns/gun injuries (47%), lack of mental health services (47%), poverty (45%), alcohol/drug use (44%), child abuse/neglect (42%), followed by unequal access to healthcare (35%), parental pressure (35%), inaccurate/misleading health information (31%), teen pregnancy/sexual activity (31%), discrimination (31%), unsafe neighborhoods (30%), gay/gender issues (LGBTQ) (29%), and health risks from water and air pollution (23%).

At the bottom of the list: safety of vaccines (16%), parental over-involvement/parents doing too much (13%) and COVID-19 (12%).

“Today’s school-aged children experience dramatic changes in classroom environments, technology norms and mental health challenges,” Woolford said.

“Parents should work with the school, tutors, and their child’s healthcare provider to address current and emerging health concerns. They should also regularly renew the conversation with their child and teen, encouraging them to share what they may be experiencing physically and emotionally. any concerns.”


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