Social media plays a big part in the lives of teens and young adults. Through social media networks, teens can connect with friends, family, their community, and school. For some, social media is also a place they can go to for support and services. These platforms also have educational resources and features that allow teens to explore their creativity and share digital content.
At what point, however, does social media cross the line and become a detriment to teens and their mental health?
To understand this, we have to understand the way a developing brain works. During adolescence, social skills and peer relationships increase rapidly. This newfound influence is prioritized within the brain and can make a teen highly sensitive to peer acceptance and rejection, especially online. For this reason, it may be easy for a teen to begin to use social media excessively if they believe it will help them gain the acceptance of their peers.
While mainly used as a communication tool, these platforms have become an extension of a teen's identity and allow them to express themselves and control the way others view them and their life. Social media that provides acceptance and positive interactions will entice a teen to continue posting and oversharing in hopes of getting positive feedback. On the other hand, negative social media interactions can be detrimental to a teen's self-esteem. In both scenarios, unrestricted social media use can have profound mental health implications, increasing anxiety and depression.
Social media also has a reinforcing nature that activates the brain's reward center by releasing dopamine, making it addictive. For teens, it's even more so addictive when paired with the possibility of positive social interactions. These platforms can also be a severe distraction and create unhealthy habits affecting a teen's sleeping patterns, schoolwork, in-person social skills, and coping mechanisms. It can also expose teens to harmful content, peer pressure, misinformation, and unrealistic standards of people's lives.
You can now take steps to encourage responsible use of social media and limit some of these harmful effects.
- Start by setting reasonable limits to prevent social media from interfering with other activities.
- Emphasize the importance of good sleep and practice a nighttime routine without electronic devices.
- Develop a family media agreement that monitors your teen's social media accounts; be transparent about why and what you will monitor in their accounts.
- Talk about what behaviors are never acceptable or appropriate to do online, including oversharing personal information, bullying others, or spreading misinformation.
- Schedule time to meet in person with friends and family without screens or devices
- Have honest conversations about what they see on social media and how that applies to real life
September is Suicide Awareness Month and can be an excellent time to start conversations surrounding mental health and social media use. As a parent, you can be a good source of information and support for your teen. Start the conversation today!