How Does Social Media Affect Teens?

Social Media May be More Harmful Than Helpful for Teens

The pros and cons of social media for teenagers have been a hot topic for years. While it's great to stay connected, often certain aspects of social media can impact teens negatively.

Woman on her phone
What are teens feeling when scrolling through social media?

Whether it's Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok, social media users are likely to feel a rollercoaster of emotions as they scroll through their newsfeeds. Social media can be a great escape to have a laugh or check in on friends, but along with the positives come negative feelings.

Exclusion: Imagine a teen checking their social media and they see a Snapchat story of all of their friends at a party that they weren't invited to. It's not a great feeling. Not being included in certain activities can hurt as it is, but having to see how much fun others are having certainly doesn't help.

Comparison to others: One major drawback of social media is the constant comparison to others. Whether physically, financially, or socially, a teen will immediately compare their lives to others. This can lead to body dysmorphia and eating disorders, acting out or substance abuse, depressive episodes, and more. Photo editing software and filters create a false sense of reality on social media, and that in turn, lessens teens' confidence as they compare themselves to an unrealistic standard. It's not only comparing lives on social media, but it's also measuring someone's worth through the number of likes they receive.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): According to studies, teens can average 2 to 9 hours of screen time a day. It's the first thing they do when they wake up and the last thing they do before bed. Social media has ingrained itself into teenage culture, and it often feels like you're missing out if you're not constantly checking your accounts. Teens may be distracted or rush through homework to regain access to their devices.

How can parents/guardians help protect teens?

It's natural for caretakers to immediately want to jump in and shield their child from the world, but coming on too strong or strict may be harmful in the long run. Here are 3 suggestions to protect your teens from the cons of social media:

  1. Set reasonable limits: Encourage your teen to turn their devices off completely before bed and make a rule that there are no phones at the dinner table. A recent statement from the US surgeon general states research has shown that adolescents age 12-15 who spent more than three hours per day on social media face a heightened risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes compared to those who spent less time online.
  2. Monitor their accounts: Check in to see what your teen is posting on social media. Check in often to see how they're feeling and make sure their posts are appropriate.
  3. Have open conversations: Having an open dialogue about the pros and cons with your child is essential for your teen to have a healthy relationship with social media. Make sure they know that many images and profiles are unrealistic and share your own social media habits.
Acenda's Mental Health Library has many resources to help get the conversation started about social media and teens:

3 Tips for Managing Teenage Screen Time

What should I do if my child is being cyberbullied?

Building Healthy Habits with Social Media

What is Digital Self Harm?

It is important to note that a lot of the pressure to keep kids off social media or to regulate what they are consuming falls into the responsibility of the parents and/or guardians. U.S. Surgeon General Murphy also said, "This is not going to be an issue that we solve with one sector alone," and policymakers and technology companies hold much of the responsibility. We hope that we can simply provide some guidance on how to establish healthy technology boundaries at home.

If you are concerned about your child's mental health, clinicians at Acenda's Child & Teen Counseling Services are here to help.

Call our access center's number at 844-4-ACENDA (844-422-3632 X9500) for more information or to schedule an appointment.