Social media has undeniably become ingrained in our daily lives. This is especially true for adolescents. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, 97% of teens use at least one social media platform and 45% report that they are online “almost constantly.” The negative impact that social media can have on a teen’s mental health has recently been front and center in the media. As educators and school health stakeholders, it is essential that we understand these effects and explore ways to help students navigate this powerful landscape.
Social media can provide a plethora of benefits to teens including meaningful connections to friends and family, support networks, information on local activities and events, and distractions from the stressors of difficult academic course loads (Mayo Clinic, 2019). However, when it is overused or misused, social media can have serious negative consequences on the mental health of adolescents (Medical News Today, 2021).
Social media can expose teens to peer pressure, cyberbullying, harassment, rumors and can seriously disturb their sleep (Mayo Clinic, 2019). The disruption in sleep alone can contribute to an increase in mental health problems. The overuse of social media by teens is connected to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. It can also leave youth feeling inadequate and “less than” others which, in turn, leads to feelings of jealousy, fear of missing out, or FOMO, and overall life dissatisfaction. One study found that girls who used social media more than two hours per day were at an increased risk of suicide in adulthood (Medical News Today, 2021).
Social media can be particularly detrimental to teens who are already experiencing depression or social anxiety. These youth often turn to social media instead of interacting face-to face with others which can bring about increased feelings of isolation and depression. Furthermore, because of their lack of person-to-person interactions, they do not develop vital life skills such as handling conflicts with others, socializing with peers individually and in groups, or interviewing for jobs (Health Matters, 2020).
Here are some tips to support youth in creating a positive relationship with social media:
- Provide all students with an evidence-based social media safety and literacy curriculum such as We’re Not Buying It 2.0.
- Continue to have face-to-face conversations with your students and encourage them to do so with other students and friends (Let Grow, 2020).
- Talk about social media and the unrealistic pictures it can paint and the appropriate and inappropriate uses.
- Discuss the consequences (to themselves and others) of posting negative or damaging content (Mayo Clinic, 2019).
- Set limits on a teen’s social media usage.
- Encourage healthy habits like exercising, getting good sleep, and eating right.
- Model good behavior (Health Matters, 2020).
- If a student is struggling, encourage them to speak with you or another trusted adult and/or refer them to mental health resources. If you think they are in immediate danger, stay with them until professional help arrives.
Resources for Adolescents and Their Families
- 2nd Floor Youth Helpline
- Call or Text: 888-222-2228
- Crisis Text Line
- Text HOME to 741741
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 800-273-8255 (TALK)
Maurici, J. (2020, December 14). Our students are struggling with social media and anxiety-and adults are the ones to blame. Let Grow. Retrieved from https://letgrow.org/social-media-and-anxiety/.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, December 21). Teens and social media use: What’s the impact? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/teens-and-social-media-use/art-20474437.
MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Social Media and Mental Health: Depression and psychological effects. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/social-media-and-mental-health#statistics.
N. Y. P. (2020, February 28). Is social media threatening teens’ mental health and well-being? NewYork-Presbyterian. Retrieved from https://healthmatters.nyp.org/is-social-media-threatening-teens-mental-health-and-well-being/.
Pew Research Center, May 2018, “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018”.