INTERVIEW: Marriage and Family therapist explains how social media impacts families, relationships

Listen to KID NewsRadio’s interview with Dr. Michael Williams, a Marriage and Family Therapist, about how social media impacts families and relationships


IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — An east Idaho Marriage and Family Therapist is warning parents and kids about the potentially negative impact social media and smart devices pose to families and relationships.

“There’s a high correlation between spending time on social media and depression symptoms and anxiety symptoms,” Dr. Michael Williams told KID NewsRadio. “There’s also a very strong correlation between use of social media, like Facebook, and in marital dissatisfaction, people becoming less excited about their own marriages.”

Part of the issue stems from the false and doctored displays users post on social media. Williams said recent studies in the United States, Spain and Sweden showed a direct correlation between increased time spent on social media and increased feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. In the studies Williams referenced, respondents showed significant increase in depression.

“They asked them simply to use social media one more hour a day and at the end of two to four weeks, they tested and they found that the symptoms of depression were considerably higher in almost all of the participants,” Williams said. “A lot of what they say is that people found that their own life seem so dull and boring, and inferior in a lot of ways that reinforced their fears that something is wrong with them.”

The impact of social media and smart devices on children is also an emerging issue. Williams said teenagers may find themselves struggling to measure up and compete in a Internet world where popularity and likes are everything. According to Williams, it’s time for people to view social media the same way they do driver’s licenses.

It’s kind of like driving a car,” Williams said. “When I was a kid, you know I had a driver’s license at 14. In fact, I was a truck driver for the Jefferson County using a flamethrower everyday…and then one of the county commissioners recognized that they had a 14-year-old driving a 10-wheel truck and using a flamethrower and that came to an end immediately…Even as a 14-year-old I could realize how silly that was that I had a job like that, not that I had done anything wrong, but the potential for damage was so great, that somebody stepped up and said that, no we can’t do that. I think the same thing goes really the use of smartphones.”

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In fact, experts say healthy social media and technology habits start with parents and adults. Dr. Aric Sigman, a biologist and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, told The Telegraph in 2012 children’s technology consumption habits are largely shaped by their parents.

“Boys whose parents watch more than four hours a day of television are more than 10 times more likely to develop the same habit as those whose parents do not,” according to The Telegraph. “He also singled out parents who maintain high levels of “eye-to-screen contact” at home warning that they are likely to instill similar [behavior] in their children.”

Williams echoed a similar sentiment as he explained the unspoken messages children receive while observing how their parents or other influential adults handle technology and social media.

If a child looks at their parents and they see they spend a tremendous amount of time on social media, it tells them them that…this is more important than anything else,” Williams said. “So, I think it’s impossible for parents who are buried in their media to somehow convince their children that they shouldn’t do it…I’m very opposed to young people, very young people, having smartphones. I see no benefit to it with other than that they get to feel important by walking around with it in their hands. But, it doesn’t actually do anything meaningful for them, and that’s a difficult thing to convince people.”

Still, Williams said, the tides are beginning to turn as children who were raised during the birth and rise of social media consumption are finding a desire to disconnect from the Internet and reconnect with the world around them.

“There have been religious leaders recently who have promoted people taking a fast…from social media for a week or two weeks and a lot of the young people who participated are reporting their lives kind of come back on the line, as it were, and they’re very excited about the results of that.”

Want to read more? Catch Neal Larson’s column about his experience disconnecting from social media