Protect Your Teen from the Negative Effects of Social Media on Their Mental Health

Parents often worry about the dangers of too much technology on their young child’s developing mind. Yet, teenagers are just as at risk as preschoolers for falling prey to the risks that are associated with too much screen time. Today, teenagers are spending more time on social media, and the majority of kids in this age range have private accounts of which their parents may not be aware. While going online can be a good thing when a teen uses it as a positive resource for research and support, you should be aware as a parent of these negative effects that social media can have on a teen’s mental health. Read on to learn about some the negative effects that social media can have on a teen’s mental health.

Reduced Social Skills

In the past, parents used to roll their eyes at how much time kids could spend with their friends hanging out at the mall or lounging around each other’s houses. While it might have looked like the kids weren’t doing much, the truth is that all of that time spent giggling and meeting new people was an important part of their social development. On social media, teens are reduced to using mostly nonverbal communication, which reduces their ability to learn important social skills, such as how to read body language or speak up in a crowd. Over time, this lack of real life social engagement can lead to serious issues, such as social anxiety disorder or difficulty resolving interpersonal conflicts.

Fewer Opportunities for Taking Safe Risks

Many teens say that they prefer talking online because it allows them to have more time to plan their response. At first glance, this might seem like a good thing for the introverted teen. Yet, it actually reduces your teenager’s ability to take risks, such as introducing themselves to someone new in a face-to-face situation. Spending too much time online also reduces the time that teenager’s spend involved in taking safe physical risks, such as practicing a new gymnastics move or reaching a new height while rock climbing. During adolescence, these types of risks are critical for building self-esteem during a time when many teens struggle with a lack of confidence.

Normalization of Unsafe Behaviors

When a teenager with a disability connects with other teens who have found positive coping methods for similar struggles online, it is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, the opposite can be true when a teen finds other people online who support dangerous behaviors. For example, social media groups are online that promote drug abuse, self-harm and eating disorders. Many of these operate under the guise of trying to help teens, but much of their advice is harmful. As a parent, it is important for you to be aware of the websites that your teenager visits so that you can quickly identify when they might have stumbled into unsafe territory.

Skewed Perceptions of Common Situations

Not being invited to a social event or dealing with a breakup are incredibly difficult experiences for teens. Unfortunately, teenagers now have to watch these private and painful situations play out publicly on social media. Watching as their friends post pictures of an event that is happening right then or flipping through an ex-boyfriend’s photo reel of him and his new girlfriend amplifies the feelings of exclusion that a teen experiences. Since they lack the life experience to understand that most people tend to publish only what makes it look like they are loving life, teens end up with a skewed idea of reality. Adults may know that their ex’s new relationship is probably not all its portrayed to be online, but a teenager is likely to feel crushed. At best, this can lead to intensified emotional reactions such as hurt and anger. At worst, it can lead to long-term mental health issues such as depression.

Fear of Public Humiliation

Think back to your most embarrassing moment in life. Now, picture that being played on an endless loop in front of everyone in the world. That’s what it is like for teens when they worry about what might be posted about them by someone else on social media. Being called names on the school bus might’ve hurt, but being able to read them again and again on someone’s status feed prolongs the damaging effects. Whether a teen has accidentally posted a compromising photo or they are dealing with cyberbullying, the emotional consequences of being publically humiliated are devastating for their mental health.

Intense Pressure to Be Perfect

That same fear of public humiliation makes many teens feel extra pressure to always be their best. Many teens are competitive about having the prettiest social media photos or looking like the coolest teen at school in their videos. This intense pressure can generate feelings of low self-esteem as teens try to have the best hair, the thinnest figure or the hottest wardrobe when compared to their friends. Often, even the positive feedback these teens receive takes a negative turn when they start to place too much value on their appearance or fear losing their internet fame.

Masking Serious Mental Health Issues

For some teens, the internet becomes another type of vice that they can use to cover up painful issues. For example, a teen who is dealing with deep depression may spend hours online making themselves feel better by getting more likes on their social media posts. Alternatively, a parent may just think their teen prefers researching things online instead of spending time with friends when the teenager is really dealing with a serious case of social anxiety.

Keeping Your Teen Safe on Social Media

As a general rule, a teen’s risk for developing mental health issues from spending time online increases with the amount of time they engage on social media. While there are benefits to spending time on the internet, you will need to be aware that it is important to balance that out with the potential risks. While many teens use social media without a problem, the potential for harm to your teen’s mental health is real. By talking to your teen about appropriate social media use and being involved in their online activities, you can help them learn how to minimize the risks while making their interactions a positive experience.

Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. He has been a respected leader in the field of emotional health, behavioral health and teen drug treatment for more than 15 years. During that time, Dr. Nalin has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model. Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Dr. Nalin is currently an adjunct faculty member at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of substance abuse prevention, teen drug rehab reforms and innovative adolescence treatment.

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