Your Teen and Social Media
Social media is an integral part of their daily lives for most people these days. It’s how we consume the news. It’s how we connect with friends and family. It’s even how we shop in many cases. We use it for our personal lives and our businesses. Social media has been a significant advancement in a lot of ways, such as battling loneliness throughout the current pandemic, helping people find communities of individuals with similar beliefs, interests, or in many cases, the same problems. However, along with all the good that has come with the rise of social media, there is also a lot of bad. In recent years, we have been seeing more and more reports of the adverse effects that social media can have on teenagers and the dangers associated with not keeping a close watch on your child’s activities online. Today, we will discuss the different ways that social media can negatively affect your teens and ways that you can work to protect them from these harms.
Social Media and Mental Health in Teens
Studies in the US and the UK have shown that teens who spend more than two hours a day on social media are at an increased risk of experiencing anxiety and depression than those who spend more time pursuing real-world activities such as sports, arts, or outdoor activities.
Aside from increased depression and anxiety, there are many other ways that social media can directly negatively impact teens. Many teens who spend a significant amount of time online have admitted that spending time on social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat has harmed their body image and self-esteem. Social media is full of people posting photos and videos of themselves that are highly edited or using filters that create a false sense of who they are and what their lives are like. This false narrative is then seen by teens who compare themselves to this unrealistic portrayal of their peers or celebrities that they look up to, and it causes them to feel very insecure about how they look and their lives in general. While this phenomenon is true for any age, it is significantly damaging to teens because the adolescent years are a considerable time of self-exploration, change, growth, and building self-esteem. So for teens to constantly see the seemingly perfect lives of others in comparison to their own creates a feeling of pressure to be better, thinner, prettier, and a host of other expectations that are often very difficult if not impossible to live up to.
Studies have also shown that people are more likely to say and do things online that they would never do in person. For this reason, online bullying has become an enormous problem. Behind the safety of a computer or phone screen, some teens (and people in general) have become emboldened to be cruel and to say things that are monumentally damaging and hurtful to the recipient of that cruelty.
Another adverse effect of social media is also one of the things we mentioned at the beginning of this blog as a positive. With the rise in social media, people can connect with a community of individuals with similar interests or beliefs. However, suppose your teen has a particular interest in something dangerous or unhealthy and searches for others involved in this harmful/ dangerous behavior. In that case, it can increase their interest or encourage them to act on unhealthy/dangerous activities. For example, suppose your teen struggles with their body image and has been battling with an eating disorder as a means to lose weight or reach their desired body type. In that case, it can be monumentally damaging to them to find a community of other teens who encourage highly restrictive dieting, excessive exercise, and unrealistic body types. Having others encourage them to maintain unhealthy eating and exercise routines can have a dangerous effect on your teen’s physical and mental health.
Studies have also shown an addictive quality inherent in social media usage. Scientists have found that much like other addictive behaviors such as drug use, alcohol use, and gambling, using social media can create that same reaction in the brain by increasing dopamine levels. The experience of posting something online and that post getting likes, comments, followers, or shares can be like a high and makes that person want to keep posting more and more to get that feeling. This desire for this type of interaction can also lead teens to overshare or post inappropriate photos or information online to get more likes without considering the future consequences of their actions.
How to Keep Your Teen Safe Online
If you have been reading this and are concerned that your teen is being negatively impacted by social media use, there are some things you can do to help protect them from harm.
Set reasonable limits on social media use- This is important for all family members, not just teens. Set limits on when and how long your teens can be on social media. Ensure that your teens have a daily routine that includes plenty of “unplugged” time. Encourage them to put their devices away at a reasonable time at the end of the day to wind down and prepare for a restful night of sleep. You should also model these same limits for your kids.
Supervise their online activities- Talk to your children about how they are using social media. Let them know that you will be checking in on their social media usage from time to time, and stick to your word! You should regularly check their posts, comments, and private messages on social media (we recommend weekly). You should also be paying attention to what groups your teen is involved in online and what is happening in those groups.
Talk to your teens about what is and is not appropriate. Have a serious conversation with your teens about the dangers of online bullying (both being the bully and the victim), as well as what is appropriate to share online and what’s not. You should also talk to your teens about the dangers of talking to strangers online and how to stay safe from predators in the online space.
Encourage real-world activities. Encourage your child to pursue some activities such as sports, art, music, or other social and physical activities that require them to be physically present and away from their devices.
Have regular check-ins with your teen. Speak to your teens about how they’re feeling, how they’re using social media, and how their social media usage affects them regularly. Online bullying can sometimes be very sudden and swift, and while your child’s activity online may be perfectly healthy one day, that can change in an instant, so it’s imperative to keep an open line of communication with your child when it comes to social media use.
If your teen is struggling with anxiety, depression, bullying, or online addiction, we can help! Here at Georgetown Counseling and Wellness, we have multiple counselors who specialize in working with teens and families to overcome these issues. Our therapists can help you, and your child learn new techniques for navigating big emotions and ways to cope and communicate more effectively. They can also help you establish healthy routines and provide a safe place to discuss your struggles and learn how to overcome them. Contact us today at 512-400-4247 for a free 10-minute consultation or schedule an appointment.