'Like' it or not, using social media can cause anxiety, depression, and other health challenges. How can you change your teen habits?
The social media platform Instagram made headlines last year for suppressing likes the comparisons and hurting the feelings associated with attaching popularity to content sharing. But are these efforts fighting mental health issues, or are they just putting a plaster on a wound?
It’s a small step in the right direction; even if you remove the likes, there are still opportunities for comparisons and feedback. People can still compare themselves to others, and people can always comment.
The Risks for the Reward
Social media have a reinforcing character. Its use activates the brain’s reward centre by releasing dopamine, a “feel-good chemical” linked to enjoyable activities such as sex, food, and social interaction. The platforms are designed to be addictive and are associated with anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments. According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of adults and 81% of teenagers in the U.S. use social media. This puts a large population at increased risk of feeling anxious, depressed, or ill about social media use.
But what makes users come back for more, even if they may feel sick about it?
When the outcome is unpredictable, the chance of repetition is greater; think of a slot machine: if players knew that they would never get money by playing the game, they would never play. The idea of a possible future reward keeps the machines in use. The same goes for social media sites. They don’t know how many likes a picture gets, who ‘likes’ the photo, and when the image becomes ‘nice.’ The unknown outcome and the possibility of the desired outcome can keep users occupied with the sites.
To increase self-esteem and the feeling of belonging in their social circles, people post content with the hope of receiving positive feedback. Link that content to the potential future reward structure, and you get a recipe for continually monitoring platforms. When assessing others’ social activity, people tend to make comparisons like: “Why didn’t this person like my post, but this other person did?”. They look for validation on the internet that serves as a replacement for the meaningful connection they would otherwise make in real life.
FOMO fear of missing also plays a role. If everyone else uses social media sites and not participating, there is a worry that they will miss jokes, connections, or invitations. Missing experiences can lead to anxiety and depression. If people look online and see that they are excluded from an activity, this can affect their thoughts and feelings and physically affect them.
A 2018 study linked social media to reduced, disturbed and delayed sleep associated with depression, memory loss, and low academic performance. The use of social media can affect the physical health of users even more directly. Researchers know that the relationship between the mind and the bowel can change anxiety and depression into nausea, headaches, muscle tension, and tremors.
The Digital Age of Vulnerability
The sooner teenagers start using social media, the more significant their impact on mental health. This is especially true for women. While teenage men tend to express aggression physically, women do so relatively by excluding others and sharing offensive comments. Social media increase the likelihood of such harmful interactions.
For example, a sixth-grader whose best friend chooses a new best friend and posts pictures of the couple in the movie or on a weekend trip. Fifteen years ago, the girl may have been excluded from her best friend’s activities, but she may not have known about it unless she was explicitly told about it.
Social media can have both advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to be aware of how it affects you.
In addition to providing a window through which young people can view missed experiences, social media put a distorted lens on appearances and reality. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat increase the chances of seeing unrealistic, filtered photos at a time when teenage bodies are changing. In the past, teenagers used to read magazines with altered pictures of models. Now, these photos can be flipped away with one thumb at any time. Apps that provide the user with airbrushing, teeth whitening, and more filters are easy to find and more comfortable to use. It’s not just celebrities who look perfect; it’s everyone.
When applying a filter to the digital world, it can be a challenge for teenagers to tell what’s real and what’s not, what comes at a difficult time physically and emotionally. High school is already a challenge for students with all their developmental changes. As they go through puberty, they have the task of establishing their identity at a time when the frontal lobes in their brains are not yet fully developed, and there is a lack of impulse control. All this happens while their relationships with peers become more important. It is a very vulnerable population to access something where there is no stopgap before they post or press the send button. I think that’s something you have to pay attention to”.
Distract Yourself From the Distraction
People are usually not motivated to change their social media use by just hearing that it’s not good for them. Individuals should see what their limits are. It is probably unrealistic for most social media users to stop altogether. However, they can monitor their behavior to see how their use affects them and act accordingly.
An example is a teenager who knows this all too well. When she was initially treated for anxiety, her therapist asked her if she was active on social media, and she said yes. “It turns out that a lot of my anxiety and cheating syndrome gets worse when I’m online. Someone experiences deception syndrome when they feel chronic self-doubt and feel that they are being exposed as an impostor in success and intellect. “Whether it’s another beautiful vacation or someone’s bouquet, my thoughts went from ‘Why I don’t?’ to ‘I don’t deserve these things, and I don’t know why,’ and it made me feel terrible.
She and her therapist decided to establish basic rules. “If the teenager would continue to use social media, she had to learn what would trigger her fear and how the use of different platforms would make her feel. As a result, she removed Snapchat for good, and after five years, she still doesn’t miss it. But she is still active on several other platforms.
The frequency of the parents’ use of electronics can set the tone for what is allowed for their children. If you want your children to put down their phones while eating, it will happen sooner if you do the same.
A 2018 study by the University of Pennsylvania suggests that such self-monitoring can change social media’s perception. The study’s researchers looked at 143 graduates randomly assigned to two groups. The first group was asked to limit Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to ten minutes per platform per day, while the second group was asked to continue using their social media for three weeks as usual. The restricted group showed a significant reduction in loneliness and depression during those three weeks compared to the group that continued to use social media. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing than where they were at the beginning of the study.
Set a Good Example
Parents can develop a plan of how much time family members will spend on devices. Strategies such as these teach children healthy media use and good sleep hygiene. When teens start using social media, parents can return their phones at night to understand that parents can view posts and messages. This helps parents to know because sometimes teens share the battle online while parents have no idea. Monitoring also encourages teens to remember that everything they share online is a permanent fingerprint. If they don’t want their parents to see it, it shouldn’t be posted.
A common argument is that children say they miss it because of restrictions on their phone use – that they are not allowed on a platform or cannot be online after a certain amount of time. The best way is to remind children that a good friend would find a way to spend time with them. We suggest other ways that children can talk to each other to keep FOMO feelings away and be socially present. Suppose that young people know that they cannot use their phone after a certain period or cannot access a site that their friends use. In that case, they can ask their friends to make their plans known when they see each other at school or call the home phone or one of the parents’ phones so that they can stay involved in the conversation.
The way parents use social media is a model for their children. A study by the University of Texas on the use of mobile devices by parents while interacting with their children found that mobile use contributed to distracted parenthood, that more offers were made when parents were distracted, and that there were conflicts with other caregivers.
The parents’ electronic use frequency can set the tone for what is allowed for their children. If you want your children to put down their phones while eating, this is more likely to happen if you do the same.
Discover the benefits of cutting back on your screen time and how it has a profoundly positive impact on your entire household!