Social Media & Its Effects on Teenage Mental Health
While the emergence of social media has many benefits like allowing us to stay connected to family and friends across the world, we are now seeing some negative effects, as well, primarily among those who use it the most: our teenagers.
This past year, COVID has stimulated and worsened anxiety and depression among teenagers due to fear and isolation. If we look back pre-COVID however, we find that the emergence of social media was already worsening depression and anxiety in our teenagers. So, as parents and pediatricians, it is vital that we look at the possible harmful effects of social media in order to help our kids deal with and overcome mental health issues. Here are 3 ways that social media may be negatively affecting your teen:
Social Media Limits Face-to-Face Interaction
On the surface, platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat seem to promote social interaction. It is an instant way to be with your friends when you’re not able to be with them in person. Studies however have shown that this ability to connect through our phones has drastically decreased the amount of face-to-face interaction in our teens. They hang out in person less, and they are alone more.
As a result, they are uncomfortable in face-to-face relationships, so they retreat to their room with their phone, get on social media, and the cycle continues. They may not be able to pinpoint the reason for their depression, but teenagers need in-person interactions for healthy development and a lot of them are alone too often. They are also not learning important life skills for the future such as eye contact and the ability to have face-to-face conversations.
Social Media Magnifies Comparison
No one posts their worst pictures on Instagram or Facebook. Instead, they take multiple shots to get the best one then apply a filter. The result? Teens (and adults) will look at these pictures and think, “I don’t look like that… my vacations are never that amazing… my family is not that put together…” and on and on it goes. They compare themselves to images that depict a false reality and think they will never measure up. Often times, they will then spend hours (again alone) trying to manufacture the “perfect” post, all while feeling bad about themselves. As you can imagine, this can be devastating for someone who is already struggling with low self-esteem.
Social Media Increases Bullying
It’s much easier to type something mean and hurtful than to say it to someone’s face. Combine that with the added “benefit” of platforms like Snapchat not storing your snaps or texts. It makes for an easy avenue for teens to say whatever they want without consequences. The only consequence is the mental health of the one who is being picked on, targeted, or left out of a group. The result is feelings of worthlessness which can lead to increased isolation and depression. (If your child is being bullied, here’s how you can help.)
What Parents Can Do to Help Their Teen’s Mental Health
I’m not suggesting getting rid of all social media, but there are a few things you can do to help ensure something that’s supposed to be positive is not making your teen anxious and depressed. First, be involved. Know what social media platforms they have and check it regularly. This is not an invasion of privacy. Depending on their age, you need to know who they are talking to and the nature of those conversations. Second, set limits. Don’t let them be alone in their room for hours on end with only their device. Make them be out with the family — interacting with real people! Third, talk to them and ask them regularly if they are struggling. If so, don’t be afraid to reach out to school counselors, church leaders, or other counselors in the area. And if need be, talk to your teen’s pediatrician! We can help point you in the direction of someone who could help.
– Lindsay Kinnebrew at Primary Pediatrics