Effects of Social Media on Teens

A comprehensive new study called #StatusOfMind, which was released May 2017 by the Royal Society for Public Health, an independent nonprofit in the UK, examined the effects of social media on young people’s health. The study surveyed almost 1,500 people aged 14 to 24. The study determined that Instagram is the most detrimental social networking app for young people’s mental health, followed closely by Snapchat. YouTube was the only social platform that had a net positive effect on young people.

Here are quotes from their report about the top 5 negative effects that social media has on young people:

  1. Anxiety and depression

“Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by 70% over the past 25 years. Research suggests that young people who are heavy users of social media – spending more than two hours per day on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression). The unrealistic expectations set by social media may leave young people with feelings of self-consciousness, low self-esteem and the pursuit of perfectionism which can manifest as anxiety disorders. There is growing evidence linking social media use and depression in young people, with studies showing that increased use is associated with significantly increased odds of depression. Using social media for more than two hours per day has also been independently associated with poor self-rating of mental health, increased levels of psychological distress and suicidal ideation.”

  1. Sleep

“Sleep and mental health are tightly linked. Poor mental health can lead to poor sleep and poor sleep can lead to states of poor mental health. Sleep is particularly important for teens and young adults due to this being a key time for development. Teens need 1-2 hours more sleep every night than adults. Numerous studies have shown that increased social media use has a significant association with poor sleep quality in young people. Using social media on phones, laptops and tablets at night before bed is also linked with poor quality sleep, even more so than regular daytime use of social media. Some respondents report spending late-night hours scrolling through their social media feeds. One in five young people say they wake up during the night to check messages on social media, leading them to be three times more likely to feel constantly tired at school than their classmates who don’t use social media during the night.”

  1. Body image

“Body image is an issue for many young people, both male and female, but particularly females in their teens and early twenties. As many as 9 in 10 teenage girls say they are unhappy with their body. Studies have shown that when young girls and women in their teens and early twenties view Facebook for only a short period of time, body image concerns are higher compared to non-users. One study also demonstrated girls expressing a heightened desire to change their appearance such as face, hair and/or skin after spending time on Facebook. Others have suggested social media is behind a rise in younger generations opting to have cosmetic surgery to look better in photos, which has implications for physical health through unnecessary invasive surgery. Around 70% of 18-24 years olds would consider having a cosmetic surgical procedure.”

  1. Cyberbullying

“Bullying during childhood is a major risk factor for a number of issues including mental health, education and social relationships, with long-lasting effects often carried right through to adulthood. Seven in 10 young people have experienced cyberbullying, with 37% of young people saying they experience cyberbullying on a high-frequency basis. Young people are twice as likely to be bullied on Facebook than on any other social network. These statistics are extremely worrying for the overall health and wellbeing of our young people. Victims of bullying are more likely to experience low academic performance, depression, anxiety, self-harm, feelings of loneliness and changes in sleeping and eating patterns – all of which could alter the course of a young person’s life.”

  1. Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)

“The concept of the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FoMO) is a relatively new one and has grown rapidly in popular culture since the advent and rise in popularity of social media. The term is particularly used by young people, with digital language research showing that 40% of parents do not know what the term means. In essence, FoMO is the worry that social events, or otherwise enjoyable activities, may be taking place without you present to enjoy them. FoMO is characterized by the need to be constantly connected with what other people are doing, so as not to miss out. FoMO is associated with lower mood and lower life satisfaction. The sharing of photos and videos on social media means that young people are experiencing a practically endless stream of others’ experiences that can potentially fuel feelings of inadequacy or that they are missing out on life. The more an individual uses social media, the more likely they are to experience FoMO.”

Actions Parents Can Take

This research shows that parents need to be aware of the negative effects that social media can have on teens, how much time their teens are spending on which social networks, and what they experience while online. In addition, here are steps parents can take to combat some of these negative effects:

  • limit your teen’s time on social media
  • be aware of your teen’s activities online and explore the technology yourself
  • require that all laptops, cell phones, and tablets be plugged in for charging in a public area of the house by a certain time each night
  • talk to your teen about the unrealistic nature of many social media posts, noting that many photographs are altered and that many posts are exaggerated and filtered so that we are only seeing a positive view of their life, not any of the difficulties they face
  • create a rule that your teen not post anything they wouldn’t say to someone’s face
  • discuss cyberbullying and ask your teen to tell you about any posts or messages that make them feel uncomfortable

For more ideas, read our previous blog, Keeping Your Teen’s Social Media Safe and Positive.

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