9 out of 10 teenagers use social media, and it’s a worry that all parents have to navigate — but how does social media affect young people, and what can parents do to help?
In this article, we’ll be exploring:
- how social media is used in 2020
- how social media affects teenage mental health, specifically
- what the signs are of these risks, and
- what parents can do to protect their children online.
So, let’s get started.
First, how do teens currently use social media?
‘Social media’ today is an extremely broad term, encompassing various platforms and functions. Gone are the days of simple status updates, and in its place are multimedia applications that let teens post and share content, shop, augment reality, and ‘go viral’.
Currently, video and photo sharing platforms are top of the charts, with teens today most interested in sharing and creating visual media. This is made clear by the current top social media platforms for young people, which include Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube — all of which revolve around image and video content.
Around 90% of all teenagers use one of these platforms, and that doesn’t show any sign of declining. But what are the effects of such widespread use of social media?
How does social media affect teenage mental health?
When it comes to social media, the biggest concern for parents tends to be its effect on teenage mental health. And that’s not without good reason. In fact, early research has suggested that social media, for some young people, can be lead to:
- Depression: studies indicate that the frequent and excessive use of social media could lead to symptoms of depression, such as low self-esteem, social isolation, and loneliness.
- Anxiety: social media can place a lot of stress and pressure on young shoulders — especially when it comes to ‘looking good’ in photographs, and posting the ‘right’ kind of content. In some cases, this can lead to a persistent feeling of anxiety and worry, which could impact a child’s mental health more broadly.
- Sleep deprivation: sleep is an extremely important part of a young person’s routine, and it’s something that social media commonly disrupts. One study, for example, found that around 20% of children will wake up in the night to check social media. This could lead to things like exhaustion, lack of focus, and addiction.
- Jealousy: thanks to perfecting filters and the selective nature of social media, it’s easy for young people to get lost in the ‘highlight reels’ of others, which can create jealousy and insecurity about their own lives.
There are also the added risks of social media addiction (children becoming obsessed with social media), cyberbullying (online bullying via social media) and imposter syndrome (how social media affects teenage self-esteem) to consider — all of which link to, and can exasperate, the above concerns.
How can parents spot the effects of social media on teenage mental health?
A teenager’s activity on social media is often kept private from their parents, which can sometimes make it difficult to identify whether any problems are at bay. There are, however, a few warning signs worth looking out for to spot if your child might be suffering:
- Social isolation: spending increasing amounts of time alone could be a sign that your child is relying too much on social media to socialize.
- Loss of interests: this is a common symptom of depression and, if noted alongside persistent social media use, could be related to excessive screen time.
- Tiredness: teenagers who use social media too much can stay up late and struggle to sleep. This could lead to tiredness and social media addiction.
- Anxiety: if your child is more anxious than usual, social media could be to blame, as it can increase pressure and stress in a teenager’s life.
- Image consciousness: social media sets unrealistic ‘beauty standards’ that can leave teenagers feeling insecure about the way they look. If your child is struggling with their appearance, too much time on social media might be responsible.
If you notice a combination of these symptoms, your child may be suffering from the negative effects of social media. To combat this, you should take the necessary actions at home (of which we’ll break down next) or reach out for professional support.
What can parents do to prevent the negative effects of social media on teens?
To protect your child from the risks of social media, parents should:
1. Set up ground rules
This includes having rules around when social media can be used, and what your child is allowed to do when using it.
You could, for example, set a boundary that social media can only be used for an hour a day and that your kids cannot post photographs of themselves or add friends without your approval.
If these rules aren’t followed, there should be consequences, such as taking your child’s phone away for a day. This, in time, will teach your child the importance of online safety.
2. Protect your child’s privacy
If your child is to use social media, make sure that their privacy settings are kept up-to-date and that only approved friends can view their profiles. You can also make sure that their address and birthday are hidden, to protect them from online risks.
3. Keep things out in the open
This comes in two forms — physically, you must make sure that all home computers are kept in family spaces (not bedrooms) and that, emotionally, your child knows that they can talk to you about any concerns they have. This requires you to frequently check in with your children, and talk to them about how they’re feeling and what they’re doing online.
4. Talk about the risks of social media
It’s imperative to educate your children about the risks of social media. This includes telling them about cyberbullying, online predators, and how social media is not representative of real-life — all of which will give your children the knowledge they need to navigate social media safely and responsibly.
Should parents be worried about social media?
The truth is, most teenagers go through phases of insecurity and uncertainty, and this is usually to be expected, but if you notice that social media is negatively impacting your child and making these phases harder to deal with, there might be cause for concern.
In this instance, you should 1) enforce the necessary rules to try and limit your child’s social media usage, and 2) reach out to your family doctor if things have got out of hand.
It’s important to take your child’s mental health seriously, as dealing with the pressures of growing up can be tricky to handle, especially in the age of social media.
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