Social media has rapidly become a ubiquitous part of our lives, allowing us to connect with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. By improving social connectivity across the globe, social media has had the effect of making the world a smaller place and allowing us to learn as much as we can about each other. It is clear that social media platforms have had many beneficial impacts on us all.
However, in light of a new generation of young people who are being raised with this relatively new technology, there are a lot of questions about the downsides of its use. In many ways, this is the normal outcome of the exploration of new and innovative technologies.
However, new research is bringing to light the very real issues that intense social media use can bring about, the negative effects of their use, and which social media platforms we should worry about when it comes to the mental health of young adults.
When it comes to social networking sites, information on their use and their detrimental effects can often be contradictory. Their positive effects are often touted, such as:
The value of social media in broadening teen social connections cannot be dismissed out of hand. They also have an educational dimension considering that many teens find that social media platforms are the easiest way to access information about current events, as well as to learn valuable technical skills that can aid them in their future professional life.
It has almost become a necessity for young people to have social media accounts in order for them to connect and communicate with their peers with an estimated 45% of all young Americans saying that they they are active on social media. This figure does not include those who use social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger as a tool to talk with their friends, so we can safely assume that the real figure is even higher.
A Common Sense Media report estimates that the actual number of teens participating in social media is as high as 81%. A large part of this can be attributed to the huge peer pressure that teenagers are subjected to. When everyone around you is on social media, it is hard to escape it. This is even more true when it comes to being able to manage your social media use in a healthy manner.
However, all this time online has other consequences on the mental health of teens. These consequences are worth worrying about and should make parents consider limiting their children's social media use so that they learn to develop a healthy relationship with it, regardless of the positive effects it can sometimes have. There has been extensive research concerning how social media affects teenagers negatively. Some of these impacts are:
The growing consensus that social media use can affect teenagers in a negative way has slowly become more outspoken, especially when recent research brings to light the fact that increasing rates of teenage depression are directly proportional to the amount of time they use social media.
It can also be claimed that the prevalence of social media accounts as a tool for teenagers to communicate with other people means that they lack ways to develop their own social skills in an effective and realistic manner. Social media accounts are not always accurate portrayals of people's lives, and teens can struggle to develop socially if their primary mode of communication is not face-to-face.
However, the fact that social media has become an invaluable tool for people's social networking (both personally and professionally) is also important to keep in mind and is the reason that advocating for a healthy relationship with social media is so critical.
As we have discussed, the prevalence of physical and psychological consequences as a result of excessive or uncontrolled social media use can vary regardless of its positive aspects. It has been found many times over that the negative effects that social media use can bring about are directly proportional to the amount of time spent online. Subsequently, as a result of all the peer pressure that social media burdens teenagers with, many teenagers might feel that they have no choice but to spend time online to avoid being ostracised by their peers and to avoid feeling left out.
The teenage years are a tumultuous time for everyone. The constant pressure to be active online and to present the very best digital version of yourself can have degrading effects on the mental health and security of teenagers in the United States. For this reason, teaching healthy social media use to teenagers should be an essential role for parents in order to guarantee the well-being of their children.
The damaging effects on teenagers' sleep patterns as a result of excessive media use have been thoroughly researched. A particular study with 467 adolescent test subjects found that teenagers who are more active on social media, or who are more emotionally invested in it, are much more at risk of unhealthy sleep patterns (as well as overall decreased life satisfaction). If this excessive social media use extends to too much screen time during nighttime hours, then this effect is even more prevalent.
In many ways, the manner in that teenagers interact with each other has not become essentially different. The same rules apply in the digital sphere and the same interpersonal problems and dramas are still present, they have simply become digitally transposed. Just as bullying is an issue for many teens at school (and an unfortunate consequence of human behavior), cyberbullying has become a prevalent problem.
Essentially, it is a form of online harassment which can be used to discredit or humiliate other teens. It has also been found that the mental health harms caused by cyber bullying are more likely to affect teenage girls than boys.
Issues concerning increased rates of anxiety disorders have been found to correlate with teens' social media use. Studies have shown that there is some evidence that social media use can be responsible for higher rates of anxiety among teens and adolescents. Despite the fact that there are some questions to be raised about how valid these studies are, it is not something that should be dismissed out of hand.
This is especially important considering that anxiety disorders can lead teenagers to other problems, such as substance abuse disorders. Other systematic reviews have shown that social media usage and anxiety have a bidirectional relationship. Excessive use leads to higher rates of anxiety and teens with already present anxiety disorders, or issues concerning loneliness and social isolation, tend to use social media more often which exacerbates an already present problem.
Likewise, excessive social media use in teens can also lead to an increased prevalence of depressive symptoms among young adults and can be one explanatory factor for increased rates of depression among American teenagers.
However, it should be kept in mind that the prevalence of anxiety or depression-related mental health disorders cannot be explained simply by too much social media use. It is simply one contributory factor among many related to teens' self-image and how they relate to their peers.
When it comes to self-image and self-esteem, one issue that should be addressed is social media's relationship to body dysmorphia, which affects young people of all genders. Body dysmorphia is defined as an excessive or unrealistic worry about a person's physical appearance, leading to stress and anxiety.
In many ways, it can be considered almost normal that if teens are constantly pushed images of beautiful people living the "ideal life" then they are forced to reflect on their own appearance, and start to view it as the reason for their lack of online success.
Research has shown that body dysmorphia is on the rise among teens and adolescents, with social media cited as one possible cause. Excessive social media use has been proven to be related to body dissatisfaction, which in turn leads to other sets of problems such as eating disorders. Despite affecting both boys and girls, girls are usually found to be more at risk of developing health disorders that can negatively affect their physical health. It is one more example of how the effects of the normal phenomenon of social comparison is exacerbated by social media use.
In terms of which social media platform is most likely to cause negative effects on teens' mental health, there is limited research available. This is not unsurprising considering that many social media sites are still relatively new and there has not been enough time to effectively research the effects of their prolonged use.
Sites such as Facebook, which was the main social networking site for many years, have been the center of attention because of their longevity and because of how it has been proven to negatively impact youths. Studies have shown that prolonged use can create skewed perceptions about other people's lives.
Additionally, statistical research has found that the high use of Facebook is a predictive factor in how people feel generally about themselves, with it having a negative impact on their own subjective idealizations of themselves. Essentially, rather than fulfilling a teenager's need to connect with others on an emotional level, it can have the opposite effect.
Despite the large availability of research concerning Facebook, it is merely one part of the social media bubble, and parents should not necessarily focus on it as the sole culprit for their children's self-esteem issue, especially as young people are progressively moving towards other platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
In many ways, social media interactions by teenagers are simply a reflection of their personal identity. Teenagers will always be teenagers, it is just that their behavior has been transposed into the digital sphere.
Parenting is difficult, but it is important to teach teenagers ways of maintaining a healthy relationship with social media so as ensure they do not fall into problems concerning their mental health. Setting proper limits is of utmost importance, while also recognizing that online time has become an essential part of maintaining a successful social identity, even if we disregard peer pressure.
Good parenting extends to digital personas. However, if your child is a heavy social media user it may be time to find some way to help them. It is normal that teenagers have difficulty self-regulating, which is why parental controls are so important. While it may be seen as invasive by teens, it is a good way to make sure they do not develop future body image issues or other related problems such as substance abuse disorders. Parents should focus on providing effective emotional support to their children and help them be more resilient to bullying through effective communication.
Simple actions such as reducing screen time at night can do wonders for teens, both in regard to their sleep patterns and as a method of reducing risks of anxiety or depressive disorders. Less social media at night is therefore highly recommended. In establishing healthy boundaries, they can learn to be more comfortable with themselves and others by limiting social media exposure.
If you are worried about your teen's social media use and the impact it has had on their well-being, then sometimes therapy and treatment are the most effective option to deal with it in a healthy way.
This is also due to the fact that the negative outcomes of social media are simply one factor among many when it comes to mental health issues. Excessive use of networking sites, despite the positive behaviors they can encourage, goes hand in hand with many mental health and substance use disorders.
It can be difficult for parents to keep up to date with modern technology, especially when they are busy managing their own lives and taking care of their children's needs. It is for this reason that Clearfork helps parents with teenagers who are at risk of these problems.
At Clearfork, teens can visit our facilities in order to get a better and more healthy outlook on everyday life. We offer a range of therapies aimed at supporting young people, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and music and art therapy.
Our outdoor therapies can help your teen reconnect with the beauty in life through activities such as yoga and wilderness exploration.
Get in touch now to find out how we can help improve your teen's mental health.