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How Does Social Media Affect Your Teen's Mental Health?

Mindlessly scrolling, taking selfies, and retweeting to excess — you might feel like social media has taken over your teen’s life. And you might not be wrong. According to recent data from Pew Research, 45 percent of teenagers report being online “almost constantly”.

While this constant smartphone use might be annoying to you, it may also be harming your child’s mental health. Studies link social media to increased feelings of loneliness, peer pressure, and a rise in mental health issues. This guide breaks down some of the most prominent ways that social media impacts teens and what parents can do to help.

How can social media harm mental health?

Anxiety: The teenage years are already a challenging time, marked by self-esteem issues and anxiety. However, social media may be making these feelings worse. When teenagers are constantly on social media, they have opportunities to compare themself to others and measure their self worth based on “likes”. They may also feel pressure to perfectly curate their posts and respond right away to messages from friends.

Depression: When a teenager spends five or more hours per day on their mobile device, they are 71 percent more likely to have one suicide risk factor. And the more social media sites that people use, the higher their risk of depression. While researchers have not determined a clear relationship between social networking and depression, there are some prominent factors like increased isolation, a lack of verbal communication, and cyberbullying.

Lack of sleep: Sleep is vital to mental health, and your teen may experience adverse effects if they check their smartphone during the night. A UK study found that teens who frequently woke up to look at social media were more likely to report being “constantly” tired at school. These students also reported feeling less happy than their peers who felt well rested during the day. And blue light from screens can disrupt natural sleep cycles.

Cyberbullying: When teens are using social media sites consistently, they may experience cyberbullying from their peers. This can come in the form of mean comments and bullying in group messages. Teens may also send embarrassing screenshots or photos to their friends to target certain individuals. Cyberbullying can harm a teen’s self esteem, lead to difficulty in school, and even cause health problems or suicide.

What can parents do?

Knowing the potential effects of social media can be daunting, but there are some steps that parents can take to help their teens. It is important to remember that if your teen is living with a mental illness, you should talk to their doctor about treatment. This can include talk therapy, medication, teen residential programs, or a combination of approaches. Your teen can recover and live a healthier life by seeking help.

As for minimizing your teen’s social media use and prioritizing their mental health, there are several steps you can take. One of the best approaches is to talk openly with your teen about social media. Ask questions about why your teen uses social media as often as they do. Through conversation, they can choose to restrict usage on their own rather than struggle against your restrictions. You can also talk openly about how social media may be harming their own mental health and how to set healthy boundaries.

Since you want your teen to use social media less, be sure to set a positive example. Set limits on your own screen time and plan activities that don’t involve social media at all. You can also try planning “no phone” days or parts of the day, inviting your teen to join you. By creating opportunities for meaningful connection, you may notice that your family reaches for their phones less often.

As a parent, you want what is best for your teenager. Social media can present unique challenges for your teen, but you can help them overcome them with some gentle guidance. And of course, a mental health professional can help you through this process. By making this effort, you can bring your family closer together.

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