In Singapore and other countries, such as the United States, there is a growing call for social media and tech companies to safeguard the well-being of young people. Given their tender age and ongoing brain development, youths are particularly susceptible to the harms of social media. Parents need to shoulder part of the responsibility to protect their children from social media’s harms.

Depression and Anxiety

Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from “fake news” and sexually explicit material to violence and cyber-bullying. Mr Ryan Huang, an Educational Psychologist, notes that social media algorithms are designed to be highly engaging and encourage perpetual use. “Direct pushes, infinite scrolls, real-time updates can lead to ‘doom scrolling’ and addiction,” Ryan says.
Dr Victor Kwok, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, pointed to research which found a link between social media use before bedtime and increased risk of depression and anxiety. Excessive daily use of social media significantly heightens the risk of poor mental health. Dr Kwok anticipates further discoveries on how social media, which exploded in popularity in recent years, affects this generation of children.
Dr Tay Kai Hong, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, shares similar insights. “I have encountered children and youths with anxiety, depression, and school refusal, where the condition seems linked to social media use. One depressed teen used apps to indulge in morbid and gory content, which fed into his depressive and self-harm thoughts. Some children become so engrossed with social media and screen time that they start to miss school and find it difficult to return.” says Dr Tay.

Like, Follow and FOMO

Social media can promote unhealthy comparisons and set unrealistic expectations of what is desirable. “It can lead to FOMO (fear of missing out) and unhealthy social comparisons because what is often posted is a carefully curated and biased version of reality,” says Dr Tay.
“Like” and “follow” ratings can lead to unhealthy comparisons and affect a person’s self-worth. “There is a constant bombardment of what is desirable and likeable, and you get instant feedback on whether something you posted is well-received. While having many people ‘like’ your post may boost your self-esteem and confidence, the opposite can make you feel rejected and batter your sense of self,” says Ms Siti Mariam, Principal Therapist and Art Therapist. “Others can post things about you, making you feel constantly watched with little control over your privacy. This creates a lot of anxiety and a sense of helplessness in our teens.”

Influencers’ Impact on Eating Disorders

Dr Victor Kwok conducted a study where he found that severe eating disorders are associated with social media use. He said that pictures posted online can be edited, and often these social influencers set unrealistic standards on beauty. Some social media influencers may inadvertently perpetuate unhealthy diet fads.
Noted Dr Tay, “Unrealistic and extreme portrayals of what is glamorous on social media can generate feelings of insecurity and lead to body image issues and unhealthy eating habits.”


Dr Tay Kai Hong has observed more cases of cyber-bullying among his patients. One of his young patients developed severe panic attacks because of cyber-bullying. He supported her application to change schools after fake rumours spread among the school population. “It led to a lot of social anxiety, depressive feelings, and school avoidance.”
Dr Victor Kwok said that bullying can take place after a breakup or a falling out between close friends. They can become afraid to socialise in school events or participate in school trips. Dr Kwok shared that individual psychological treatment may not be adequate. It is important to work together with school counsellors, teachers, principals, and parents to address and resolve the issues. “The school has to take a strong stand to protect victims and punish those with bad behaviour. Both offline and online behaviour have to be corrected.”
Ms Siti Mariam said that teens need to observe their own behaviour, and parents need to inculcate the right values. “Many teenagers seem to think that what they do on social media is harmless because it’s just a click or a comment that agrees with what so many others are saying.” But this is not true and cyber-bullying can cause real harm.

What Can Parents Do to Help Their Kids?

Dr Tay feels that parenting is more complex today because parents need to guide their children to navigate the digital landscape safely and responsibly. A parent of two boys in pre-school, he tries to limit their screen time to 30 minutes a day. Parents should directly supervise the access, selection of content and duration of screen time for young children.
Ms Siti Mariam encourages parents to gently start conversations about social media use. “Tell them you are concerned and love them. Regular conversations and reminders about important religious, social and family values are essential. These apply to how we conduct ourselves in speech and behaviour, and respecting other people’s opinions even when we disagree.”

Your Children Are Watching You

Parents need to be good role models too, says Dr Victor. Some of his young patients have complained that their parents are addicted to their phones and are disengaged at the dinner table. This contradicts what the children are taught in school about cyber wellness.
Ms Siti Mariam shared that she accepts feedback from her children when they complain that she is “addicted” to her phone. “Such moments are great opportunities to show our children that adults are not perfect. The grace is in receiving and accepting feedback that we need reminders to improve ourselves and are willing to change for the better.”

The Bright Side of Social Media

Social media is not always harmful. “Like most things in life, it’s a double-edged sword. It can promote social connection too” says Dr Tay. Ms Siti Mariam agrees that people with mental health challenges feel a sense of community and pick up self-help tips from social media. Social media can also reduce the stigma of seeking help. “It can help us connect easily and better with each other. Information is readily available at our fingertips” says Ms Siti.

Important Tips for Parents

Ms Justine Xue, Senior Child Psychologist, offers the following tips for parents on cyber wellness:
  1. Be a role model. Watch your own social media consumption and phone use.
  2. Discuss rules of social media use with your child such as:
    • Limiting access to specific times and duration in the day.
    • Appropriate and responsible conduct online.
    • Putting the phone away at mealtimes, family time and bedtime.
    • Decide on consequences if any rule is broken.
  3. Work with your child to amend notification, content and privacy settings
  4. Engage in other relaxing activities instead of social media at least 1 hour before bedtime
  5. Be open and interested in conversations with your child about content they found on social media. Focus on their thoughts and feelings about it. Teach your child how to verify the source, appropriateness of content and potential bias.
  6. Participate in offline fun activities with your child to develop other interests, communication and relationship-building skills

Seek Help Today

If you're concerned about your child's social media habits or their mental well-being, don't hesitate to reach out to our team of experts at Private Space Medical. Together, we can navigate the challenges of social media and promote a healthier digital lifestyle.

Dr Beron Tan
Senior Psychologist
Private Space Medical