Is Your Teen Using Social Media Too Much?
At the dinner table. Watching TV. While out with friends. Teenagers are constantly using social media, and that might not be good for their mental health.
Here’s what you need to know.
Mental Health Risks for Teens
Two factors seem to most influence whether social media use by teens is detrimental to their mental health: the amount of time they spend online and how they use social media. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day of screen time for children ages 5 through 18. Some studies have found that spending more than three hours a day online is the tipping point for mental health problems.
A study of more than 450 teens found that greater social media use, nighttime social media use and emotional investment in social media — such as feeling upset when prevented from logging on — were each linked with worse sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Teens who use social media passively, such as by viewing others’ posts, may be at higher risk for anxiety and depression. That’s because they are comparing themselves to others. Teens who interact online or post their own content appear to be less at risk of mental health issues.
Anxiety, Depression and Low Self-Esteem
If you have a teen girl in the United States, you are more likely than a parent of a teen boy to say you are “extremely” or “very concerned” that social media use might lead your daughter to experience problems with anxiety and depression (32 percent vs. 24 percent) and lower self-esteem (30 percent vs. 23 percent), according to Pew Research Center. Still, 47 percent of the parents surveyed said they are “only a little” or “not at all” worried about social media causing anxiety or depression in their teens.
Benefits of Teens Using Social Media
Social media can be beneficial for teens. At the height of the pandemic, we saw how social media helped alleviate feelings of isolation when teens and their families had to stay home. Zoom and FaceTime allowed groups to stay in touch and learn, play games, watch movies, eat meals and celebrate holidays together.
Social media platforms let teens find others who share their interests and personal concerns and receive support. Such positive communities help teens feel like they belong and create friendships. Teens also can learn about and work for causes in their communities — and all over the world — through social media. They can create awareness, develop fundraisers and use their numbers to affect change.
Finally, social media gives teens an outlet for personal expression and creativity. From singing, writing and acting to fashion, make-up trends or craft projects, kids connect through digital technology and find self-confidence and self-worth in doing what they love.
Watch for These Signs
Some of the most common signs that social media use is negatively affecting your teen include:
- Constantly attached to a device and gets upset when asked to get off it
- Withdraws from activities that were previously enjoyed
- Grades are slipping
- Sleep is disrupted
If you notice any of these signs, it’s a good idea to talk with your teen. If your child seems reluctant to open up, a mental health counselor may be able to help.
Make a Family Media Plan
The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a free, interactive tool for families to create their own media plans to help kids avoid overusing media. You can customize your plan to meet your family’s values and lifestyle by taking into account each child's age, health, personality and developmental stage. Plus, you can revise your plan as often as you need to, such as at the beginning of each school year or during summer and holiday breaks. The media use planning tool also is available in Spanish.
The family media plan includes:
- A list of media priorities you can choose
- Practical tips to help make the plan work
- Explanation of why the plan is important
- The ability to print or share your finished plan
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