Navigating Social Media and Mental Health: A Guide for Teenagers and Parents

In today’s digital age, social media has become an integral part of the lives of teenagers, shaping how they communicate, interact, and express themselves. While social media offers numerous benefits, it’s important for parents and teens to educate themselves about the benefits, risks, and how to create healthy boundaries around social media use.


The Impact of Social Media on Adolescent Development


In June 2023, The United States Surgeon general released an advisory regarding social media and its impact on youth and adolescent mental health. Let’s explore some key statistics:

  • Up to 95% of young people aged 13-17 report using a social media platform. Nearly two thirds of teenagers report using social media every day and one third report using social media “almost constantly.”


  • Children and adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media face double the risk of mental health problems including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is problematic, as a recent survey found that teenagers spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media. Furthermore, 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse about their body and physical sense of self.


Negative Consequences of Social Media on Youth and Teenage Mental Health

These are some of the symptoms reported by teens and their families due to exposure to social media:


Emotional Well-being: Excessive social media use can contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness in teenagers. The constant comparison to curated online personas can lead to a distorted self-image and low self-esteem.


Cyberbullying: The virtual world can be a breeding ground for cyberbullying, which can have serious emotional and psychological consequences for teens. Online harassment can erode self-confidence and contribute to social isolation.


Sleep Disruption: The blue light emitted by screens and the constant engagement with social media can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to sleep deprivation and related health issues.


Impulsive Behavior: The instant gratification and dopamine-driven reward systems on social media platforms can contribute to impulsive decision-making and reduced impulse control in teenagers.


Social Skills: Over reliance on virtual interactions can hinder the development of crucial face-to-face communication skills and empathy, impacting real-world relationships.


Managing Social Media Usage Effectively


While the potential negatives of social media use are real, they can be mitigated through conscious and mindful management. Here are some strategies for teenagers to navigate the social media landscape:


Consider Accessibility to Social Media: Does your pre-tween, tween, or teen really need to have access to social media (or a smartphone, for that matter?) And, if so, can it be a reward for completion of academic and/or household responsibilities?


Set Boundaries: Establish time limits for social media usage each day. Use tools available on platforms or smartphone settings to receive reminders and enforce breaks. 


Curate Your Feed: Follow accounts that promote positivity, inspiration, and personal growth. Unfollow or mute accounts that make you feel inadequate or stressed. Remember – most social media accounts are a highlight reel and what people want you to see – and some photos are altered or have a filter on them to achieve an unrealistic (or downright fake) level of perfection.


Practice Digital Detox: Designate tech-free times, such as during meals and before bedtime, to allow for meaningful face-to-face interactions and better sleep quality. For example, all phones are turned off at a designated time and not kept in the bedroom. Also, what happens when tech-free times are implemented? Does your teen exhibit symptoms of withdrawal, including moodiness, crankiness, or fights the detox period altogether?


Prioritize Real Connections: Allocate time for in-person interactions with family and friends. Building strong offline relationships is essential for emotional well-being and builds socio-emotional and communication skills that cannot be replicated in the digital world.


Critical Thinking: Develop critical media literacy skills to discern between credible and unreliable sources of information. Question the authenticity and intent behind posts.


Mindful Posting: Before sharing content, consider the potential impact on your well-being and the well-being of others. Use social media as a tool for positivity and connection, rather than validation. Think about posting like a tube of toothpaste that is squeezed – once content is out, you can’t take it back.


Report and Block: If you encounter cyberbullying or offensive content, don’t hesitate to report and block the individuals involved. Prioritize your mental and emotional safety.


If your child or teen is exhibiting any symptoms of either depression or anxiety know that you are not alone.  If you or your family is struggling with managing social media give us a call at Elements Psychological Services today to book an appointment.