Social media plays a big role in teenagers’ lives. Many of the effects can be positive, as social media can enable teens to communicate with their friends or to connect with a supportive online community. However, there are also some potentially harmful aspects of negative media that can take a toll on teenagers’ mental health and wellbeing. It is vital for parents to be aware of these risks so that they can provide support when it is needed.
The Growing Impact of Social Media on Mental Health
Most young people in the UK use social media regularly. At the same time as social media use has grown, mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety have also become more common. However, the connection between these two facts is not clear.
Some studies suggest that heavy use of social media can increase the risk of mental health problems in teenagers. However, other studies have failed to confirm this link. It can be difficult for parents and doctors to know what is best when the evidence is so conflicted.
However, there are two key points that appear quite consistently throughout these studies:
- The harmful effects are mainly seen in teenagers who use social media the most. Teenagers who spend most of their free time on social media, using it for many hours every day, are more likely to show negative effects. Overuse of social media could be a sign that a teenager is at risk.
- Many teens are themselves concerned about the impact of social media. One study found that 25% of teenagers believed that it had a mostly negative effect on them due to peer pressure, rumours, and the unrealistic impressions it gave of other people’s lives. If teenagers are concerned about the effects of social media then parents need to listen to them.
When Can Social Media Be Harmful for Teenagers?
Social media doesn’t necessarily harm teenagers’ mental health, but as with any other activity it is important for parents to be aware of how their children are using it and who they are involved with through these sites.
- Overuse of social networks could prevent teenagers from getting enough sleep or interfere with their homework and other activities. Teens who spend a particularly long time on social media may also be more vulnerable to mental health conditions.
- Negative comments and cyberbullying are very common. It is important to talk to teens about these issues and how to deal with them, for example by blocking specific users or learning to avoid certain sites.
- Some teens may be lured into harmful communities online, such as those that promote eating disorders or suicidal ideation. Teens who are already at risk of mental health problems are more likely to join these communities, but any teenager could access them. It is important for parents to know who their child is talking to online, especially for younger teenagers.
- Young people often compare themselves to their peers or to people they see on social media, which can result in self-esteem issues and other negative effects. Discussing the way people present themselves online and how celebrities manipulate their images can help. It can also be good to guide teenagers towards more relatable role models.
- Many teenagers feel under intense pressure to always be accessible on social media or may feel anxious if they aren’t available. Ensuring that they take a break occasionally and enjoy offline activities too can be important. Sometimes it can be easier for them to tell friends that you have kept them offline than to admit that they just wanted some time away from their phone.
However, it is important to remember that social media can also have a positive role in many teenagers’ lives. It can be an important means of contact for friends and it can connect teens with others who have the same interests or worries. Talking to teenagers about the risks of social media and ensuring that they are protected while using these sites can be a better option than banning their use completely. A total ban on social media could cut your teenager off from the supportive connections that they need together with the toxic ones.