This article explores the complex relationship between social media and teen mental health, shedding light on both the benefits and potential drawbacks of social media engagement. It emphasizes the importance of education, self-awareness, and open communication to help teens navigate the digital world safely and maintain their mental health.
The impact of social media on teen mental health is a growing concern. Today’s kids and adults alike are increasingly immersed in an online world, which has both benefits and drawbacks, and can positively and negatively affect their mental well-being. While social media can provide support, connection, and access to often lifesaving or life-changing resources, it’s also linked to issues like cyberbullying, social comparison, and reduced self-esteem.
Ever since the advent of the consumer internet, our lives have been inextricably linked to the digital world. Daily screentime has exploded among all age groups. Our reliance on smartphones continues to grow. Access to smartphones and social media is outpacing access to reliable power throughout the world. While some people wish to go back to a day and age when digital devices and screens played a smaller role in our lives, that time has long passed.
Todays and tomorrow’s children will grow up around internet-connected devices, and within the internet itself. It’s up to us – and them – to learn how to handle that, prioritize privacy, and build up protective factors against some of the more nefarious side-effects of social media consumption and internet access, while making the most of the benefits of these developing technologies.
The Positive Effects of Social Media for Teen Mental Health
It cannot be denied that there is something magical about having the ability to conveniently get in touch with people from across the globe, at a moment’s notice, and exchange ideas and information on every subject known to humanity.
The Internet and social media platforms have allowed subcultures and niche groups to grow and flourish, giving new life to old and modern interests alike, and improving opportunities for teens and adults throughout the world. Social media platforms give users unparalleled opportunities to connect and support one another, share educational resources and working opportunities, and give resourceful teens access to a wealth of knowledge.
These benefits apply the most to teens that feel marginalized or victimized within their local environment. Kids who might have grown up feeling alone with their disability or set of circumstances can reach out to and connect with countless other people who share similar experiences and might have completely different and far more positive outlooks on life. For many people, social media also serves as a source of light-hearted media, or even as an opportunity to connect with people that help them feel better and avoid or tackle personal feelings of anxiety or depression.
The Negative Effects of Social Media for Teen Mental Health
There are numerous problems with social media, especially today’s social media. For one, all social media platforms are intentionally designed to maximize a user’s time on the platform. These are free platforms, meaning they finance themselves almost exclusively through advertising. All social media platforms are owned and managed by for-profit corporations that strive to provide advertisers with a consistent and growing stream of potential customers.
This includes children, teens, and young adults, who are naturally most susceptible to modern advertising tactics, and less able to distinguish between promoted and organically generated content. This means that, by their very nature, social media platforms can be considered predatory to a degree, relying on intentionally harmful tactics such as FOMO (fear of missing out) and aggressive advertising to separate teens and parents from their time and money.
Furthermore, social media platforms are aware of, and sometimes even promote the usage of algorithms that promote harmful content, including political misinformation, body shaming, and content that promotes or exacerbates eating disorders and other mental health problems.
In lieu of connecting individuals, social media platforms have unfortunately also become an avenue for people to spread and share hate, and connect with one another on the basis of potentially harmful interests.
Social media platforms also create an avenue for cyberbullying, which is often more emotionally scarring and severe in terms of language than face-to-face harassment due to the anonymity and distance afforded by the digital world.
Tips for Responsible Social Media Use
Managing these drawbacks requires education and open communication. Parents cannot fearmonger teens into staying off the internet, nor can they keep their children away from social media platforms for long. Instead, parents must safeguard their kids by teaching them to watch out for signs of predatory behavior online and improve their political and media literacy skills at an early age.
A healthy and positive parent-child relationship also helps keep children from turning to strangers online for intimate and personal advice.
We cannot keep teens from engaging with their peers on the internet, at the cost of spending time on a predatory platform. But we can help them learn to become aware of different forms of online predation, by individuals and companies alike, and develop a healthy offline lifestyle to minimize the negative effects of an “always online” mentality.
How Do Teens Feel About Social Media?
Research into the online habits of today’s social media-conscious teens shows that many of them are already well-aware of the drawbacks of social media usage, and some of them have developed their own ways of coping with the negative sides of being chronically online. For example, relatively few teens share things related to personal problems, political ideology, or religious beliefs on social media.
Furthermore, younger teens are even less likely than their older counterparts to talk about romantic relationships or their dating life. Many teens use social media for the same reasons as many other adults: to share accomplishments and stay connected with family members.
Social media has its upsides and downsides. It’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle – but today’s teens and parents can very much learn to live with this technological development and help minimize its negative effects through communication and a trusting relationship.
If you or your teen need help dealing with the mental fallout of long-term social media use, it’s always a good idea to seek professional help. Residential treatment programs, such as those offered by Visions, help teens better balance their online and offline lives, and manage mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Call today to learn more.