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Healthy You

Social Health: Teenagers’ Mental Health and Social Media

Monday, September 25, 2017 8:22 AM

Social media is constantly running in the background of life. We can share, snap, tweet, like and reblog at all hours of the day. According to a British Psychological Society, approximately 90 percent of teenagers are on social media. Constantly seeing what their peers are doing on a day-to-day basis can be damaging to their mental health.


Lara Jakobsons, PhD, Psychologist at NorthShore, discusses the effects that social media can have on teenagers’ mental health:

  • Increased time, increased risk. The more time adolescents are engaged with social media outlets, the higher the risk there is for poor sleep, low self-esteem, and increases in depression or anxiety. The more emotionally invested they are in one site in particular, the more pressure and anxiety they may experience to be available and up-to-date at all times.
  • Poorly advised. It’s nothing new; teens have always been wary of asking parents or other adults for advice. With hundreds of friends on social media in the palm of their hands, teenagers often turn to social networks to seek advice that is often misguided.
  • Instigated fights. Cyberbullying has become a concern for parents of adolescents. Strangers, even friends, are able to hide behind the screen and say things they often wouldn’t be able to face-to-face. Teens often encounter fights on Facebook, subtweeting on Twitter and hurtful comments on Instagram – tactics often used just for the purpose of putting down others.
  • Skewed perceptions and social comparison. It is common for teens, especially girls, to experience pressure to appear “perfect” online. The need to appear to have perfect hair, to look skinny or fit, to have the perfect group of friends or the need to get the right amount of likes can consume teens. Not meeting these invisible standards can cause self-loathing and self-doubt. Social comparison, loneliness and jealousy can result when friends on social media “appear” more popular and attractive or on a glamorous vacation, which can trigger depressive feelings.

With social media a simple click away, how can parents help their teens? Dr. Jakobsons suggests:

  • Education. It is beneficial for parents to understand what social media is being used for by their teen and how. Being educated in how they use it will help parents understand the risks involved.
  • Communication. Parents should have frequent conversations with their teens about the safety of social media, how much personal information should and shouldn’t be shared and about cyberbullying. Studies show that teenagers who had their parents talk to them often, engaged in less risky behaviors.
  • Monitor time. Enforce rules to limit excessive use of social media. Examples of limiting time may include no phones at the table, no phone in car rides during errands or turning off WiFi at bedtime.
  • Healthy attitudes. To minimize social comparison and envy, parents and teens should talk about the distorted views of friends’ lives that are presented on social media. Teens should feel confident, not more depressed, after viewing social media. Encourage using social media not only to post about our best moments but our quieter ones.

While social media can be harmful, there are benefits that can come from it. Social media offers a safe environment and support for teenagers, which they may lack in traditional friendships. Marginalized adolescents – such as lesbian, bi, gay and transgendered teens or teenagers with disabilities – often benefit from this the most. Finding an online support group or friends who are experiencing the same thing can give them a safe channel to ask questions, express their feelings, etc.

How often do you talk to your teens about social media? Do you keep an eye on your teen’s online behavior?