Social Media and Adolescent Mental Health

social media and adolescent mental health

Social media and adolescent mental health is becoming an interesting public health topic. While social media has become part of the growing up experience for most teenagers in this digital age, not much studies have been done to establish its effects on teenagers. Here are results of a few studies and a few other correlations

Social Media and Adolescent Mental Health – More Studies Needed

Many of us are still interested to know everything facts say on the association between social media and adolescent mental health. So many opinions are there for and against but the truth is that there is still a lack of abundant research. While some studies show that online connections with small groups of people can be beneficial to teens, other research points to a rise in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

The other reason it’s difficult to get a good read on the issue is that social media is constantly changing and evolving. Because most research on the link between social media activity and psychosocial adjustment is based on young adults, it is not clear how well the findings apply to the generation of adolescents who have never known a world without such platforms and who presumably have frequent contact with social media.

In addition, not much long-term studies have been completed on topics specific to social media and adolescent mental health, so we’re left making educated guesses based on current research. There’s just not enough data to back up the potential long-term cause and effects.

Social Media And Adolescent Mental Health Research

One study out of the University of Pittsburgh, for example, found a correlation between time spent scrolling through social media apps and negative body image feedback. Those who had spent more time on social media had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating and body image concerns, compared to their peers who spent less time on social media. The participants who spent the most time on social media had 2.6 times the risk.

Results from a separate study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine showed that the more time young adults spent on social media, the more likely they were to have problems sleeping and report symptoms of depression.

A study at Washington State University investigated adolescent (ages 14-17) and parent reports of adolescent social media use and its relation to adolescent psychosocial adjustment. Anxiety and depressive symptoms were highest among adolescents with a relatively high number of parent-reported social media accounts and relatively high adolescent-reported fear of missing out(FoMO) possible due to lack of social experience and reduced real world peer association.

And another small study was done on teenagers (ages 13-18) at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center. Results found that receiving a high number of likes on photos showed increased activity in the reward center of the brain. Further, teens are influenced to like photos, regardless of content, based on high numbers of likes.

Reported Positive Effects of Social Media on Teenagers

There are some positive aspects to social media. It’s important to remember that teenagers are hardwired for socialization, and social media makes socializing easy and immediate. Some teenagers who struggle with social skills, social anxiety, or who don’t have easy access to face-to-face socializing with others might benefit from connecting with other teens through social media.

Adolescents in marginalized groups—including those struggling with mental health issues—can find support and friendship through use of social media. When these teenagers connect with small groups of supportive peers via social media, those connections can be the difference between living in isolation and finding support.

Negative Effects of Social Media on Adolescents

Looking at most of the past and current research and you’ll see that the negative effects tend to appear more than the positives. While teens can use social media to connect and create friendships with others, they also have to deal with the associated pitfalls like cyberbullying, trolls, toxic comparisons, sleep deprivation, and less frequent face-to-face interactions, to name a few.

Too much time spent scrolling through social media can result in symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Here’s how social media can be destructive:

Social Media and Cyberbullying

Teens girls in particular are at risk of cyberbullying through use of social media, but teen boys are not immune. Cyberbullying is associated with depression, anxiety, and an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts.

Unhealthy Comparisons

Though many teens know that their peers share only their highlight reels on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. These comparisons can become something really obsessive – ” wanting to be like someone or be better than others”

Please Like Me

The need to gain social approval and online popularity has become somewhat like a race. In a bid to gain more “likes” on social media, teens tend to make choices they would otherwise not make, including altering their appearance, engaging in negative behaviors, and accepting risky social media challenges.

Access to Strangers

Even with privacy settings in place, teens can collect thousands of friends through friends of friends on social media. Many of these so called friends are totally strangers they never met. The downside is that the more people on the friend list, the more people have access to screenshot photos, Snaps, and updates and use them for other purposes. There is no privacy on social media.

Social Media Causes Less face time

When teenagers spend more time “engaging” online than they do in person, they find it challenging to interact socially face to face. It becomes even more difficult to make really difficult to build real life human relationships.

Watch Also: Interesting! – This research reports that Social media is not directly linked to teenage depression and anxiety

Finding A Balance

Talking about social media and adolescent mental health, some parents have considered shutting out their teens from social media. The truth is that this might as well cause problems of secrecy and communication gap between you and your teenagers. Avoiding social media totally would not be the best way to reduce the negative effects of social media on teenagers. The key to helping teens learn to balance social media with real life friendships is to keep the lines of communication open and keep talking.

Honest communication shows your teen that you are there to support, not to judge or lecture. It’s also important to walk the walk. Disconnect on weekends and show your teen that there is a whole world out there that doesn’t require a handheld screen.  She may miss her phone a lot less than she thinks she will and this is a very good lesson to learn.

Here is another twist to this topic or rather another perspective. Watch this video

What do you think? Share your opinions.

Article Sources 

  1. Sidani, J., et al, “The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among US Young Adults,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, September (2016), Volume 116, Issue 9: Pages 1465–1472.
  2. Levenson, JC, et al, “Social Media Use Before Bed and Sleep Disturbance Among Young Adults in the United States: A Nationally Representative Study,” Sleep, 2017 Sep 1;40(9).
  3. Sherman, Lauren, et al, “The Power of the Like in Adolescence: Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media,” Psychological Science, May (2016), Vol 27, Issue 7.
  4. YvonneKelly et al, “Social Media Use and Adolescent Mental Health: Findings From the UK Millennium Cohort Study” EClinical Medicine, Volume 6, December 2018, Pages 59-68
  5. Christopher T. Barry et al, Adolescent social media use and mental health from adolescent and parent perspectives, Journal of Adolescence 61 (2017) 1- 11

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