Social Media & Teen Mental Health

From bullying to eating disorders to self-harm, research has shown a powerful connection between social media and mental health, particularly for children and teenagers. The suicide rates of teenagers and young adults are on the rise, and social media is a dominant factor. 

Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by Attorney Matthew Bergman

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Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by

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Watching a quick video on TikTok or checking a friend’s latest Snapchat story seems like harmless fun. However, it’s becoming more apparent every day that social media use negatively affects many teens and children. Teens and young adults have experienced a rise in social media addictions, anxiety, depression, body image issues, and suicidal thoughts.

What Drives Teens To Use Social Media?

Social media has become an integral part of teen’s everyday lives, so it’s no surprise that the majority of youth use it.  The most popular platforms include YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and more recently, Threads. Teens want to feel that they are a part of a larger social circle and connect with their peers, and social media platforms market themselves as the easiest and most efficient way to accomplish this. 

Once a teens start using social media platforms, it becomes increasingly harder to stop, and this is by design. 

Studies have found that social media use causes a
release of dopamine, a chemical that causes people to feel happy. Young people whose brains are still developing are particularly susceptible to this release—that’s why this group has an especially high level of addiction risk. 

Statistics make it clear that teenagers’ compulsion to use social media is strong. A report from Common Sense Media revealed that at least 62 percent of teens use social media daily. A separate study found that 54 percent of teens say it would be hard to give up social media, underscoring the intensity of social media addiction.

How Does Social Media Affect Teen's Mental Health?

As the prevalence of social media platforms has grown, researchers have closely studied the relationship between mental health and social media use. They’ve discovered that while social media can have positive effects, it also poses a significant threat to the psychological and emotional wellness of children and teenagers.

Mental Health Conditions

Social media use is tied to increased adverse mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. For instance, in one study, researchers found that access to Facebook on college campuses led to a seven percent increase in severe depression among students.

Additionally, these poor mental health conditions can be worsened by the feelings of loneliness that many people develop when they spend too much time online.

Distorted Body Image and Low Self-Esteem

Children and teens active on social media are constantly exposed to edited images of celebrities, models, and influencers. These unrealistic representations of beauty can lead them to develop a distorted body image. This, in turn, has contributed to children developing eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

Teenages have also developed issues with self-esteem after comparing themselves to others they see on social media. They may judge themselves based on perceptions of “ideal” status, interests, and popularity, among other factors. For example, looking at videos and images of wealthy, successful people may make them feel as if they aren’t smart, rich, or popular enough compared to their peers.

Risky or Dangerous Behavior

Some children and teenagers resort to extreme measures to escape the pain resulting from their social media use. They might adopt self-harm as a coping strategy or attempt suicide. Cyberbullying on social media platforms can also lead victims to have suicidal thoughts.

After nearly a decade of stability, the suicide rate for adolescents and young adults between 10 and 24 surged 57.4 percent from 2007 to 2018. This timing directly coincides with the launch of social media platforms such as Facebook, which became widely available in 2006.

What Problems Can Unhealthy Social Media Use Lead To?

Social media isn’t all bad. It allows children to make friends all over the world and explore their interests. However, when children’s behaviors, moods, and personalities shift after using social media, it’s cause for concern. Some key behavioral problems associated with social media include:

  • Constantly checking notifications: The fear of missing out, better known as FOMO, compels social media users to keep their devices close. Unhealthy social media use can lead to restlessness or anxiety when the user’s phone isn’t around.
  • Avoiding social situations: When children and teens opt to spend time on their devices rather than building in-person relationships, they miss out on real-world experiences and the opportunity to develop valuable social skills. They may also develop a preference for online interactions over real-life ones.
  • Avoiding bigger problems and neglecting responsibilities: Social media often serves as an escape from other issues, such as stress, depression, and boredom. Those addicted to social media may put their apps before other responsibilities or commitments.

Unhealthy social media use is frequently cyclical. For example, teenagers who feel depressed might use social media as an outlet for their feelings, but the isolation of spending extended periods online makes their depression worse rather than better.

Signs That Social Media Is Affecting Someone's Mental Health

Although parents and adults may not always be aware of all their teen’s online activity, there are many ways to monitor your child’s mental health. Potential warning signs include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns or lack of sleep
  • Decrease in physical activity
  • Increased focus on appearance
  • Different eating habits
  • Unusual defensiveness or irritability
  • Isolation from peers and family members
  • New academic struggles

These behaviors are especially troubling if they persist for several days or weeks.

How To Help a Child or Teen With Unhealthy Social Media Use

Parents and other adults can help children prevent and recover from damaging social media use. Becoming educated on social media and seeking other forms of entertainment are typically the keys to achieving healthier habits.

Become Social Media Savvy

A recent health advisory from the American Psychological Association recommends that parents train their children in social media literacy. This training might include the following:

  • Discussing how representations of life on social media often don’t reflect reality
  • Reviewing appropriate online behavior and language
  • Explaining how to think critically about information posted online
  • Learning how to identify predatory behavior

It’s also crucial that parents put boundaries in place to protect children from excessive social media use. The U.S. Surgeon General suggests that parents establish technology-free zones at home and model responsible social media behavior by limiting their own use.

Improve Overall Mental Health

Teenagers cope with many stressors in their daily lives. Combined with excessive social media use, new and changing relationships, challenges at school, and complex family dynamics can quickly become overwhelming. Fortunately, there are ways teenagers can improve their general well-being, such as:

  • Participating in offline activities, including clubs and extracurriculars
  • Limiting the amount of time spent on social media
  • Having dedicated time spent with family members and friends
  • Pursuing hobbies and passions unrelated to social media use

Rather than criticizing or scolding the young people in your life for using social media, you can help them establish a healthier life balance by encouraging them to embrace their offline interests.

How To Seek Support When Social Media Harms a Child's Mental Health

Concerned adults sometimes feel helpless when they notice shifts in their teen’s mental health. Social Media Victims Law Center empowers parents to seek support when their child’s mental health has been negatively affected by social media use.

There is growing evidence that social media companies knew of the risks posed by their products but continued to promote them without warning users. These companies must be held responsible for their choices, especially when they lead to the pain and suffering of the most vulnerable members of society. If social media has caused your teen to attempt or commit self-harm or suicide, contact us for a free consultation.

Matthew Bergman
Content Reviewed by:

Matthew P. Bergman

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