Social media continues to evolve and grow in popularity, and its powerful influence on teenagers shows no sign of slowing. Though often touted as something mostly positive that offers connectivity and information sharing, social media can pose serious challenges for younger generations.
The effects of social media on teens are varied and wide-ranging. Cyberbullying, mental health concerns, social media addiction, and privacy issues are potential adverse effects we should be paying attention to. If you’re like most parents, you’ve probably wondered how social media affects teens — read on as we share what you need to know.
How Does Social Media Affect Teens?
Social media profoundly influences teenagers. It can shape perceptions of self-worth and impacts how people interact with one another. It can also affect social skills development, self-esteem, and mental health. As much as there are positive effects such as fostering social interaction and connection with your social network, social media platforms have some negative impacts.
Here’s how social media can negatively affect mental health:
Cyberbullying and online harassment
Cyberbullying and online harassment can be classified as repeated and intentional harm through technology — via text messaging apps, social media platforms, or online. It includes humiliation, embarrassment, extortion, or threats. Victims of cyberbullying can experience different mental health issues, such as isolation, depression or social anxiety, and self-harm. In extreme or prolonged cases of this type of bullying, it can even cause suicidal thoughts or acts of suicide.
Research on teens and social media show some startling stats — nearly half (46%) of all teens in the United States have experienced at least one form of cyberbullying, and 28% have had more than one experience. Other shocking findings include:
- 32% say they’ve been called offensive names
- 22% have had rumors spread about them
- 17% have received unwanted, explicit photos
- 15% report being repeatedly asked where they are, what they’re doing, or who they’re with
- 10% have been physically threatened
- 7% state explicit photos or images of them have been shared without consent
Tips for identifying and addressing cyberbullying incidents
If you’re unsure if you or someone you love is being cyberbullied, the following signs are indicators that something more than a friendly online exchange is happening.
How to identify cyberbullying
- Change in personality, including becoming angry, withdrawn, sad, or anxious
- Seeming mentally or emotionally upset after online interactions
- Drop in grades
- Appearing lonely, depressed, or stressed
- Avoiding school, clubs, or social interactions
- Change in friend groups
- Being repeatedly contacted, even after asking someone to stop
- Change in sleep or eating habits
How to address cyberbullying
- Seek support from school
- Keep track of any records of interactions, including emails, texts, or online chats
- Report the bullying to the social platform it’s occurring on
- Don’t engage or retaliate
- Change privacy settings
- Block, mute, or unfriend the bully
- Contact the police
“Cyberbullying can affect teens in many ways, causing depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and social phobia. It’s important to observe the signs and look for help to prevent the teen from more severe consequences like self-harm or suicide.”– Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S
Mental health concerns
Social media offers near-constant exposure to carefully curated images and posts, which is extremely harmful to youth mental health. This exposure can cause teens to unrealistically compare themselves to others and potentially lead to low self-esteem or depression.
Some argue the risk to mental health is one of the most concerning negative effects of social media on teens. An astounding 93% of people who’ve been cyberbullied say the experience had a negative impact on them, with most reporting feelings of sadness, powerlessness, and hopelessness.
Research shows that adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media have an increased risk of developing teen depression and anxiety. This likely stems from factors including peer pressure or feeling inadequate when life doesn’t seem as exciting or fulfilling. Other studies suggest that victims of cyberbullying have a higher risk of developing depressive symptoms.
The fear of missing out (commonly referred to as “FOMO”) is one more issue connected to heavy social media use. Seeing friends having fun without them or feeling left out of events can cause teens to feel excluded, ultimately increasing anxiety in teens.
Body image issues
Body image issues are the result of teens and social media use. Teenagers regularly exposed to manipulated photos can develop a negative self-image about their bodies, leading to — among other things — unhealthy eating habits and disorders like anorexia or bulimia. The American Psychological Association (APA) found a direct link between reducing social media and improving body image.
“Mental health can be affected by social media when there is no clear understanding of how it works. Although teens know that not everything on social media is real, they may still be influenced and experience negative emotions that create feelings of worthlessness or low self-esteem.”– Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S
Privacy and security
Social media can provide a vast space for young people to express themselves; however, it poses substantial risks to their privacy and security. Reckless sharing of personal information can make them targets for private data theft and identity fraud. Additionally, social media interactions with strangers and adults online can expose teens to stalking, cyberbullying, and potential exploitation, underlining the need for vigilant privacy settings and safe usage.
Using the right online safety measures can ensure privacy and security.
The significance of privacy settings
Social networking sites often have complex privacy settings that can be difficult for teens to fully understand and navigate. Worse, it can be difficult to appreciate the implications of not having a secure profile set up. It’s critical for teenagers to learn the importance of profile visibility and managing friend and share requests.
Navigating online safety measures
Apart from understanding privacy settings, there are other steps toward ensuring online safety and protecting youth mental health. These include things like:
- Interacting only with known friends in private chat rooms
- Being cautious when accepting friend requests from unknown people
- Never revealing sensitive details like home address or phone number
- Educating about phishing scams
Digital footprint awareness
Finally, establishing responsible online habits early will help ensure that teenagers’ digital footprints remain intact. Each post or interaction on social media contributes toward this footprint, which remains permanently etched in cyberspace even after deleting at the source level. Teaching kids the importance of having responsible posting habits early will go a long way.
How to Help Tweens & Teens Navigate Social Media
As studies suggest a link between social media use and suicide, your role in helping young people navigate their social use safely can literally be a life or death matter. Following are some effective strategies.
Establish healthy computer and social media usage
Establishing rules is the first step in helping teens have a healthy relationship with technology. To foster positive self-esteem, set clear boundaries around when and where devices can be used.
Encourage kids to balance social media time with offline activities too — physical exercise or reading books. Over-exposure to social media platforms, when left unchecked, can quickly begin to dominate a teen’s life.
Set screen time limits
Screen time shouldn’t be a free for all. Setting reasonable online time limits can go a long way. It models the concept of self-regulation, limits unhealthy exposure, gives teens a chance to be responsible, and instills an understanding of the appropriate use of technology.
Discuss the concept of “quality content”
Beyond limiting screen time, discussing the quality of content that’s consumed on these platforms is also essential. Educational videos or constructive discussions can be more beneficial than mindless scrolling through social feeds.
Promote positive online interactions
While social networking sites offer opportunities for teens to connect with others, they also expose them to risks like cyberbullying and peer pressure. Teaching critical social skills, like respectful communication, is vital.
Focus on learning social cues, something that’s often missing from text-based interactions due to a lack of tone or body language signals. Knowing how to handle disagreements respectfully without resorting to personal attacks is critical.
Give kids an “escape route” by role-playing
You won’t always be next to your child when they need you. Role-playing what to do and how to seek help before it’s needed is a great idea. It’s a way to ensure that if and when they experience any sort of inappropriate or unhealthy online interaction — whether it be sexual or bullying in nature — they’ll know how to get out of the situation and get help.
Talk about the difference between authentic vs. digital validation
Parents should emphasize real-world accomplishments over the virtual validation kids receive on their social media accounts.
To prevent negative social comparison, it’s more important than ever to foster an environment where children build healthy self-esteem that’s grounded in more than superficial measures of popularity. They should be recognized for and proud of genuine achievements, not basing self-worth on how many clicks, likes, comments, or shares they get.
Select an appropriate online platform
Picking the right platform requires careful consideration and should be based on a teenager’s needs, behavior, and maturity level. Factors to consider include age, maturity level, potential for exposure to inappropriate content, and how much control you have over monitoring their activity.
For example, you can have your child’s Instagram or social media account on your phone to monitor searches, messages, posts, requests, and followers, but Snapchat is much more difficult to oversee since messages disappear.
“Be involved and learn as much as you can about cyberbullying and current teen social media trends. Seeing a therapist before any issues arise is recommended to prevent future problems.”– Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S
Finding Professional Support for Teens
Navigating the challenges associated with the effects of social media on teens can be daunting. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in adolescent mental health might be beneficial.
Talkspace is a reliable resource to assist teens and parents grappling with issues that stem from excessive use of social media. Online therapy for teens at Talkspace can connect young people with licensed therapists who understand the unique challenges a heavy reliance on digital communication can present. Get your teens connected with support at Talkspace today.
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