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Key Takeaways:

  • Social media use among teenagers is constantly rising, with over half of teens expressing that they’d struggle to give up an online presence.
  • The effects of social media on teens include body image issues, an inability to communicate effectively, and an increase in depression and anxiety.
  • Parents, teachers, and caregivers can help teenagers achieve “healthy” social media usage by establishing tech-free zones, encouraging non-digital activities, and setting a positive example.

As the Internet plays an increasingly significant role in early development, the question "How does social media affect teens?" is more pertinent than ever. Adolescents are increasingly immersed in online platforms, shaping their social interactions, self-esteem, and emotional well-being.

This exploration delves into the complex interplay between social media and teenagers, investigating both the positive and negative consequences.

Social Media Use in Teenagers

For modern teenagers, social media is no longer a secondary activity. Most teens use YouTube (77%) and TikTok (58%) daily, with 54% admitting they would struggle to give up social media [*].

However, despite mixed reviews from parents and schoolteachers, teens are more likely to report positive experiences on social media, with 71% expressing they enjoy having a space to express themselves creatively.

Despite generally positive outlooks on social media, teens still desire criminal charges and permanent bans against abuse.

The Effects of Social Media on Teenagers

Social media receives mixed reviews from teenagers—it depends on how they experience various platforms. While many teens feel more connected online, some perceive the online world as detrimental to their mental health.

Effects on Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being

According to a report by Common Sense Media, one-third of teens with depression and anxiety reported using social media constantly [*]. Despite being on social media to find connections or develop a sense of belonging, these teens reported feeling exacerbated symptoms of depression the more time they spent online.

Furthermore, a 2018 study reported that teens between 14 and 17 who used social media over seven hours a day were over twice as likely to become diagnosed with depression or a related disorder [*].

Influence on Self-Esteem and Body Image

Perhaps where social media’s negative impact on teenagers is most pertinent relates to self-esteem and body image. Because social media frequently invites comparison and lends itself to curated or filtered photographs, teens are likely to feel inferior and fail to develop healthy self-esteem coping skills.

Studies have linked Facebook usage to a higher risk of developing eating disorders, with 27% of teens expressing distress over how they look in photos [*].

Social Interactions and Relationships

Especially during the pandemic, social media became a staple for teens looking to form meaningful connections without being in school face-to-face. According to a Pew Research Center report, 81% of teens reported feeling more connected to others online, and two-thirds felt better supported throughout trying times [*].

However, the same survey found that only 24% of teens spent time with these friends in person, leaving these relationships superficial at best. In addition, there was a 70% uptick in hate speech and cyberbullying in 2020 [*].

These disjointed relationships can negatively impact a teen’s character-building and social skills as they may struggle to socialize.

Academic Performance and Time Management

Time management and distractions are the primary issues regarding school-attending teens using social media. Students can become easily distracted by constant alerts, lessening productivity in the classroom.

In addition, students may develop an inability to focus because they are so used to the instant gratification they get on social media.

Parental and Educational Guidance

Parents and teachers who recognize signs of social media addiction or negative consequences related to social media can minimize the risks associated with chronic online use by first understanding their own consumption. Here’s what you can do.

Parental Monitoring and Support

Parents, teachers, and caretakers are every child’s first role models. Kids who see adults constantly hunched over their smartphones or laptops will assume the behavior is “normal.” Thus, guardians must better grasp “healthy” social media usage.

“Traditional” monitoring methods, such as requiring children to provide their smartphone passwords or confiscating their devices, may be counterintuitive—children want to feel trusted. Not to mention, such methods can be invasive.

Instead, parents can establish technology-free zones, which can strengthen parent-child bonds. Teens feel more supported when parents and caretakers are available.

School Education on Responsible Social Media Use

With increasing numbers of educators developing online presence on social media platforms like TikTok, adhering to FERPA-compliant policies is imperative. Some schools and districts impose social media guidelines, which teachers should openly discuss with students.

If you plan to share school activities on social media as an educator, consider presenting detailed opt-out forms to parents and maintain separate accounts for personal and professional use.

Before posting anything on social media, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have explicit permission to share this media online?
  • Is there anything in this post that identifies me or my students?
  • Does this post benefit my students in any way?

Schools employing social listening tactics to monitor social media usage in schools should track public mentions of concerning, specified keywords to keep their students safe.

Strategies to Promote Healthy Social Media Use in Teenagers

Parents, teachers, and caregivers don’t need to strictly police their teens’ social media use to create a nurturing and safe online environment. Here are a few strategies to promote healthy social media use.

Set Reasonable Limits and Communicate Openly

Establish clear guidelines on screen time that encourage your teen to honor their needs, such as sleep, physical health, and setting aside enough time to enjoy other hobbies.

If you notice resistance, foster open and non-judgmental conversations about social media. Encourage your teens to share their experiences and concerns.

Encourage In-Person Contact with Friends

Online friendships often fall victim to miscommunication, causing teens to keep their guard up. Plus, fostering exclusively online relationships can negatively impact a child’s friendship-making skills.

Encourage your child to spend more time with their friends in person and settings that don’t involve technology. For instance, you might arrange a picnic, a camping trip, or a sports festival.

Look for Quality Content

In many ways, social media is educational. If your teen often falls victim to “mindless scrolling,” emphasize the value of consuming informative and uplifting media. Turn it into a bonding experience, exchanging content preferences and sharing thoughts.

Implement Digital Well-Being Apps

Restraint and self-control are challenging for teens with short attention spans. While you can easily install parental control apps on your child’s phone, providing them autonomy can motivate them to achieve less screen time independently.

Encourage them to install apps that set time limits and manage social media use.

Tap Into Their Interests

One of the best methods for building self-love and self-esteem in teenagers is getting them involved in something they’re interested in. By tapping into their non-digital interests, teens can learn to feel good about what they do instead of how they look online.

The Bottom Line

While social media use in teens seems inevitable, you can help them navigate digital landscapes more responsibly, ensuring that social media enhances their lives rather than detracting from their overall well-being.

With our collection of worksheets, we hope you and your teen can combat the adverse effects of social media use and turn their online experiences into positive, inspirational ones!

References:

  1. Vogels et al. “Teens and social media: Key findings from Pew Research Center surveys.” Pew Research Center. 2023.
  2. “The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2021.” Common Sense Media. 2021.
  3. Twenge et al. “Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study.” Preventive Medicine Reports. 2018.
  4. Mabe et al. “Do you “like” my photo? Facebook use maintains eating disorder risk.” International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2014.
  5. Pappas S. “Parents In the Dark About Teens’ Online Activities, Survey Finds.” livescience.com. 2012.
  6. Majo-Vasquez et al. “Volume and Patterns of Toxicity in Social Media Conversations during the Covid-19 Pandemic.” University of Oxford. 2020.

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