Benefits of social media
Social media allows teens to create online identities, communicate with others, and build social networks. These networks can provide teens with valuable support, especially for people who are excluded or have a disability or chronic illness.
Teenagers also use social media for entertainment and self-expression. And the platforms can expose teens to current events, enable them to communicate across geographical barriers, and teach them about various topics, including healthy behavior. Social media that are humorous or distracting provide a meaningful connection to peers, and an extensive social network can help teenagers prevent depression.
Harming social media
However, social media use can also have negative consequences for teenagers, distract them, disrupt their sleep, expose them to harassment, spread rumors, unrealistic views on other people’s lives, and peer pressure.
Studies have observed links between high levels of social media use and depression or anxiety symptoms. A study in 2016 found that increased use of social media, social media at night, and emotional investments in social media – such as feeling upset when not being able to log in – were related to poorer sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety depression.
The way teenagers use social media could also determine their impact. A 2015 study found that social comparison and the search for feedback by teenagers using social media and cell phones were associated with depressive symptoms. Another study showed that older adolescents who used social media passively, for example, just by looking at others’ photos, reported a decrease in life satisfaction. Those who used social media to communicate with others or post their content did not experience these decreases.
And an older study of the impact of social media on students showed that the longer they used Facebook, the stronger they believed that others were happier than them. But the more time students spent with their friends, the less they felt that way.
Because of teenagers’ impulsive nature, experts suggest that teenagers who post content on social media run the risk of sharing intimate photos or very personal stories. This can lead to teenagers being bullied, harassed, or even blackmailed. Teenagers often create messages without taking these consequences or privacy issues into account.
Protecting your teenager
You can take steps to encourage the responsible use of social media and reduce some of its harmful effects. Consider these tips:
- Set reasonable limits. Talk to your teen about how you can prevent social media from disrupting their activities, sleep, meals, or homework. Encourage a bedtime routine that avoids electronic media and keeps cell phones and tablets out of teenagers’ bedrooms. Set a good example by following these rules yourself.
- Keep an eye on your teen’s bookkeeping. Let your teenager know that you regularly check his or her social media accounts. You can strive to do this once a week or more. Make sure you follow the rules.
- Explain what’s not right. Discourage your teen from gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying, or harming someone’s reputation – online or otherwise. Talk to your teen about what’s appropriate and safe to share on social media.
- Encourage face-to-face contact with friends. This is especially important for teenagers who are vulnerable to social anxiety disorders.
- Talk about social media. Talk about your own social media habits. Ask your teenager how they use social media and how they feel. Remind your teenager that social media is full of unrealistic images.
If you think your teenager is experiencing signs or symptoms of anxiety or depression related to social media use, do our anxiety check with your child.