The first documented manifestation of social media appeared in 1997. At that time, you could create a profile and connect with other users, much as you can do in the variety of social media sites on offer in 2024. It’s unclear if anyone anticipated the current conversation around how social media affects mental health.
What the scientific community is seeing now, almost 30 years after the first appearance of social media, is how it has both helped and hurt our mental health. Social media has optimized our ability to connect and stay in touch with loved ones and created a sense of belonging in digital communities that we otherwise would never have been exposed to. But what’s also clear is that social media can create unprecedented levels of stress, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, and a tendency to constantly compare ourselves to others.
These difficult feelings are hard enough for adults to handle. How are they affecting teens who use social media? Let’s take a look.
How Is Social Media Affecting Teenagers?
The answer depends largely on how often your teenager uses social media. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, kids and adolescents who use social media more than three hours a day double their risk of developing symptoms associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Most teens spend more than 3 hours a day on social media. Studies also show that teenage girls are affected more negatively than their male counterparts, with increased rates of eating disorders, cyberbullying, poor sleep patterns, and distorted body image being linked to social media use.
Are There Any Positives For Teens Using Social Media?
Fortunately, there are. Reports show that social media can provide much-needed safe spaces for self-expression, community building, and the development of social connections—all of which are fantastic for the developing adolescent brain. Social media may even act as a buffer between marginalized groups of kids and teens from the harsher aspects of their realities. Most young girls of color and kids who identify with the LGBTQ community who were polled reported feeling bolstered and supported online.
How Is Legislation Protecting Kids From The Harms of Social Media?
The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) was created to combat a registered mental health crisis among teens. The bill requires platforms to provide, to lesser or greater degrees, tools and options for safeguarding teens and their mental health. Such measures refer to the following:
- The disablement of addictive product features
- The choice to opt out of algorithmic recommendations
- A mandate to enable the strongest privacy settings as a default
- Established channels for reporting harm against children on different social media platforms
- A mandate for platforms to prevent and tackle harm against minors that includes glorifying self-injury, suicide, eating disorders, the abuse of substances, and sexualization
- Permission for academics and non-profit organizations to access crucial sets of data from platforms to carry out research aimed at supporting teens
Tips For Parents and Caregivers of Teens on Social Media
While we depend on our government and social media companies to implement larger structural models of social media use that curtail negative mental health consequences, you can do the following to protect your teen’s mental health:
- Model healthy social media engagement (try to limit your use of social media to less than 3 hours each day)
- Make yourself aware of all parental control options, activate them, monitor them, and censor any sexualizing, psychologically harmful, or cyber-violent content
- Talk with your child regularly about what they see on social media, what type of information they feel is true or false, and how social media is an edited version of reality—not real life
- Observe your child diligently and ensure that they’re not using social media in areas and during times designated for sleep
Contact Miramont Centers in Waukesha and Middleton, WI
Miramont Behavioral Health Center, an organization that works professionally with adolescents ages 12-17, is here to support the mental health of your child. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at any point to discuss treatment options for depressed or anxious teens. We have the tools, the facilities, and the expertise to improve social media usage and its negative effects on mental health.