We love the constant, on-demand access to the Internet. Almost nothing can compete. But we all have those times when we wonder, is it too much? How does frequent access to tech impact our brains? Is there a detrimental effect when our brains are still maturing? Might it be negatively affecting our children’s mental health? Does what we view make a difference? Where is the line drawn between staying up to date on current events versus compulsively consuming distressing news? Ensure that your family is protected from excessive negativity online with our Screen Safety Essentials Course. This mega course offers all GKIS course content for parents and families to provide the tools necessary to navigate the internet safely and grow closer as a family. Today’s GKIS article covers the dangers of doom-scrolling and what can be done to prevent it.
What is ‘doom-scrolling’?
Doom-scrolling refers to the excessive consumption of distressing online news coverage. This phenomenon increased exponentially as people became more active on the internet in conjunction with the rise of concerning national and international news. On the one hand, staying informed may be a coping mechanism. Browsing opportunities allow people to “reassert control over the situation” by actively seeking knowledge about a novel context or threat.
For example, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people became obsessed with news about variants, vaccines, and the number of cases around the world and within one’s local county.
Another example of doom-scrolling is the high viewer rate of news about the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020. It was too easy to become glued to our screens watching videos documenting police brutality and protester violence unfiltered and in real time on TV, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok. The desire to stay up to date on this hot topic social movement grew so intense that people commonly spent several hours a day watching violent videos.
Our Attention Has Been Commodified
In recent years, scary news items permeate the airwaves, with reports of mass shootings and alarming weather events due to climate change. The public’s trust in the government has reached an all-time low, with divisively high levels of partisanship and serious concerns about U.S. democracy. Sensationalistic and divisive programming that sparks outrage is intelligently designed to capture our attention and keep us watching. Media and social media companies recognize that more eyes on the story result in more profit.
Negative media and news coverage can affect our mood and hopes for the future. Anxiety, depression, and the adoption of a nihilistic outlook may result from doom-scrolling. Constant exposure to negative news content can lead to a low expectation for positive future outcomes which can lead to feelings of hopelessness – a primary precursor to suicidality. For example, a doom-scrolling teenager may be led to wonder if applying for college is worth it if global warming is going to end the world by 2030, or even consider if it’s worth staying alive to witness the decline. Staying informed can come with a serious mental cost.
Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok are popular social media sites that offer real-time footage of violence. From intense protests and desperate attempts to escape a mass shooting to families trying to escape the horrors of war. There’s no end to the horrific content you can consume.
Gen Z social media users (born between the years 1997-2013) particularly possess a collective passion for activism and justice paired with a prominent collective online presence. However, this drive seems to also come with an obsession with sharing, retweeting, and reblogging violent content to encourage others to stay up to date. While this may have the good intention of bringing attention to serious issues, the constant access to intense videos, photos, and articles desensitizes consumers. To read more about how Gen Z online users differ from Millenials, check out my GKIS article Millennials, Gen Z, and the Internet: Generational Divides.
Compare and Despair
A demanding social media presence may also lead to a more negative self-appraisal. Children, tweens, and teens are especially susceptible to compare and despair due to an immature personal identity and impoverished life experience. The more the individual relates to the influencer, the more impact the content may have. Our GKIS article, Is My Selfie Good Enough? How Screen Media Drives Beauty Pressures That Distress Kids and Teens, dives deeper into how social media can heighten comparison and feelings of inadequacy. Check it out to learn more.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder in which a person struggles to recover from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Our article, Live Streaming Can Cause PTSD in Adults and Children, discussed the different ways online violence can lead to PTSD. In Kids Watched a Facebook Live Suicide That Turned Into a Trending Meme, desensitization and the impact of watching shocking and violent content on the mind and body are discussed. And in Graphic Livestream Horrors, the dangers of watching violent events unfold in real-time and the tolerance of violence are discussed. This series provides additional information on what can happen to those who excessively consume violent content online, as well as how to protect your children from such possible outcomes.
Children with social media accounts unintentionally come across negative news coverage because social media algorithms suggest videos and posts after even the slightest interaction, which can expose them to increasingly inappropriate content. To help your tweens and teens avoid inappropriate content and avoid doom-scrolling and desensitization, check out our Social Media Readiness Course. This course can help prepare your kids for safer screen use and prevent psychological illness with emotional wellness tools.
Children, tweens, and teens are particularly susceptible to distressing online content. Our Screen Safety Toolkit offers an outcome-based resource guide with recommendations and links to our favorite parental control systems necessary for effective parental supervision.
Our free GKIS blog articles offer a great way to stay in the know on all topics surrounding internet culture and safety, which can help parents keep their children safe from digital injury.
Have Important Family Conversations
Our free Connected Family Screen Agreement provides tools to educate and empower families to set digital boundaries and expectations while building stronger family relationships. Having group discussions about tech, mental health, and current events offer an important way to educate kids and answer your child with openness and honesty at a developmental level they can understand.
Dr. Bennett believes that providing children and teens the skills necessary to navigate the internet responsibly is important for not only individual development but for family development, which is why the Connected Family Course can help families connect and avoid potential digital injury. Finding a middle ground between education and overexposure exists and it can be implemented safely.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
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 Hepburn, S. R., Barnhofer, T., & Williams, J. M. G. (2009). The future is bright? Effects of mood
on perception of the future. Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on
Subjective Well-Being, 10(4), 483–496.
Photo by Solen Feyissa (https://unsplash.com/photos/Yaw9mfG9QfQ)
Photo by Prostock-Studio (https://unsplash.com/s/photos/family-talking)