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Social media: something that has become impossible for some of us to live without. Especially the teens in our life. Social media is a great way to stay connected, this past year has proved that. But how much is too much? Surely the near constant consumption of other people’s lives has some effect on our wellbeing. Studies such as the 2020 review by Keles, McCrae, and Grealish suggest that there is a correlation between social media use and mental health problems. However, there are other factors to consider. What type of content does your teen tend to look at? Do they mostly interact with their friends from school or the neighborhood or are they spending a lot of time looking at posts from people with “influencer” lifestyles? What topics are their chosen influencers discussing? The possibilities are endless.
What this issue really boils down to is this: Is your teen comparing themselves to the carefully curated presentation of others on social media and wondering what is wrong with them? Are they learning information from untrustworthy sources? Social media can be a powerful tool for both good and evil. I myself love how it can be so powerful in combating the stigma surrounding mental health issues but also recognize how it can easily work the other way.
My biggest concern for social media is the presence of people who talk about their own mental health experiences. Let me be clear in saying that, overall, this is a GOOD thing. The more people talk about mental health, the less stigmatizing it can feel to others to be open about their own problems. However, it has recently come to my attention that there is a subset of people who are talking about topics such as suicide and self-harm on social media and that some teens are comparing their struggles to those of others. Ultimately making them feel like their problems are small and ultimately encouraging them to engage in more and more dangerous behavior. This is not all teens, but this is something that I feel parents should be aware of.
So, what can we do to make sure social media is a tool for good for your teen? Teens aren’t always going to love the idea of their parents monitoring their social media or talking about it with their parents. However, I encourage you to find a way to compromise so that you, as the parent feel that you know what they are doing on social media while also allowing them to have some degree of freedom in using their chosen platforms. Communication is always going to be the best option. Have conversations about how unrealistic social media can sometimes be or talk about the importance of not taking information at face value. Encourage your teens to do their own research on what they are learning from people on social media. If it seems like it’s having too negative of an effect on you or your teen, establish some boundaries to help alleviate social media’s affect.
Keles, McCrae & Grealish. (2020). A systematic review: The influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25(1), 79-93. doi.org/10.1080/02673843.2019.1590851