MCSMN Blog

March 31, 2011

The Impact of Social Media on Children and Their Families

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On Tuesday morning, I received a high priority email from my chief medical officer pointing everyone to a clinical report on the impact of social media on children and their families from The American Academy of Pediatrics.  She suggested we should add social media questions to our templates and add this to our next Medical Quality Improvement and Electronic Health Record superuser agenda.   She asked for a lecture on social media and digital technologies for our staff, especially those that care for children and adolescents and she suggested guidance in this area should be made available for parents.

The timing was great.  At 11 that morning, I was leading a breakfast discussion at our family wellness center on the topic of social media and family wellness.  It was a great discussion, and we are scheduling a follow up discussion at our main location as well as a similar discussion at one of our other sites.  As I thought about this, my mind went back to the gathering in Jacksonville, where one of the concerns frequently expressed was about how to get providers better acquainted with social media.  It seemed like this was a good starting point.

There were three paragraphs from the AAP report that I believe are especially important in terms of this:

"Pediatricians are in a unique position to educate families about both the complexities of the digital world and the challenging social and health issues that online youth experience by encouraging families to face the core issues of bullying, popularity and status, depression and social anxiety, risk-taking, and sexual development."

Part of this education includes the suggestion that pediatricians should

Advise parents to work on their own participation gap in their homes by becoming better educated about the many technologies their youngsters are using.

Then, the part that I think really should be important to our providers:

In addition, the AAP encourages all pediatricians to increase their knowledge of digital technology so that they can have a more educated frame of reference for the tools their patients and families are using, which will aid in providing timely anticipatory media guidance as well as diagnosing media related issues should they arise.

There we have it: the AAP encouraging all pediatricians to increase their knowledge of social media.  With the AAP backing me up, I increased my efforts to get more pediatricians more up to speed and I’ve gotten various responses.

One person responded that a group of pediatric providers voiced concerns they have about teen parents neglecting their children, in preference for all the stimulation of texting and Facebooking on their phones and computers.   It is an interesting angle that I hadn’t considered and I am exploring.  I expressed my curiosity about the basis for the concern.  Is it based on things that the pediatric team is seeing with the teen parents and their children?  Is it based on general thought or feelings about social media?  Perhaps most importantly, is it because of social media, or because the teen parents they are seeing might be prone to neglect their children, and if it wasn’t social media, it would be television or talking on the phone with friends?

I suggested that perhaps the best approach would be to encourage young parents to read aloud everything they are texting or sending on Facebook.  It is well known that the number of words a child hears in the early years affects language acquisition.  Another idea was to ask the parent to commit to writing some number of text messages or Facebook status updates describing what the child is doing.  Essentially, this is a way of asking the parent to pay closer attention to the child, as well as to feel proud about the child and share that.

As an aside, have any of you seen this YouTube video?

It was uploaded only six weeks ago and has already been viewed over seven million times.  Apparently, it went viral and the Today show has featured it.  People love this sort of stuff and it can be very empowering.  Some of the comments included:  “love the twins 🙂 These babies are sooo adorable!! Bless yu all 🙂  I hope God's abundant blessings rain down on your family! The twin boys are cute.”  I wish more of the teen parents we see had these sorts of positive experiences.

In terms of education, I’ve been speaking with our chief medical officer about how best to present this.  I suggested that we have roundtable discussions.  Social media is, by its very nature, social, and particularly suited towards conversations and discussions.  However, the CMO seems to prefer lectures, so we are likely to choose a middle ground with an initial lecture, followed by roundtables.  We are currently discussing who should speak and when.  From a social media perspective, this is frustrating.  I’m used to things happening nearly instantaneously.  However, I guess I have to wait for a chance to speak with the doctors.

I’ve also had some good discussions with the director of our school based clinics.  She sent the article to her staff and suggested that we have some round tables.  I’m waiting to hear back on these.

With that, I realize I’ve violated the one of the rules that some in social media adhere to by writing a fairly long post.  However, I’ll try to make it up by at least ending off with an ask designed to encourage conversation.

Are people in your organization talking about the AAP report?  How are you responding?  Do you have any suggestions to the rest of us about how we can use this opportunity to get more providers better informed about social media?

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