If you’re the parent or caregiver of a teen, then you know just how hard it can be to help your child navigate social media and all that comes with it. And while it’s certainly tempting to just try and ban your child from social apps, a more realistic approach is to educate yourself on how using social media affects teenagers and to provide your teen with tools for using it in a healthy way. 

Worrying about exposure to technology is a normal part of modern parenthood – and for good reason. Though there are potential benefits to social media for teens, there is also a heightened risk of mental health problems. In particular, social media could lead to increased rates of depression and anxiety for some teenagers, as well as declines in overall life satisfaction. 

What’s a parent to do? Keep reading to explore the connection between social media and teen mental health – and to pick up some tips on how to help teens use social apps in a more positive way. 

How Teen Social Media Addiction Happens

It’s not all that far-fetched to think your teen might be addicted to social media.

Ninety-seven percent of teens use the internet daily, and roughly half say they use it “almost constantly.” For many, this includes extended periods of time on popular social media apps like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, with 54% of teens saying that giving up social media would be difficult to do. 

Some of what makes social media so enjoyable is also what makes it potentially addictive, including things like the instant gratification and constant hits of dopamine it offers. And developing teen brains are uniquely vulnerable to these addictive properties. If social media is used too often at a young age, the brain can actually be rewired to seek out these quick, pleasurable feelings obsessively. The result is an over-reliance on social media and a heightened risk of mental health issues it can lead to. 

Positive and Negative Effects of Social Media on Teens

Social media isn’t all doom and gloom for the teen set. In fact, the majority of teens say that social media has a positive impact on their lives, leading to increased opportunities for social connectivity, self-expression, creativity, and peer support. 

But there’s a flip side, too. Negative effects to be aware of include exposure to cyberbullying and harassment and reduced face-to-face communication skills, as well as the risk of social media addiction noted above. 

It’s important to understand both the good and bad of social media use for teens. In doing so, you get a fuller picture of what social apps have to offer (and why they’re not so easy to ditch). You also ensure you’re better able to spot the signs of trouble and intervene if necessary. 

Teaching Teens How to Use Social Media in a Healthy Way

Just as you teach your teen how to drive and how to say no to peer pressure, you also have a role to play in teaching them healthy social media habits. Here’s some advice for how to do it, including solutions to negative effects of social media for teens who are struggling. 

  • Set boundaries – Talk to your teen and come up with a reasonable limit to when, where, and how much time they can spend on social media, including ways to stay accountable. 
  • Be mindful – Help your teen practice naming their emotions, and encourage them to log off when they notice social media negatively impacting their emotional state. 
  • Curate – Work with your teen to curate their feed so that they’re exposed to more of the topics and people who leave a positive impact on them – and less of those that don’t. 
  • Stop comparing – Sit down with your teen to learn about the dangers of comparing yourself to others and tools for stopping comparisons when they happen. 
  • Prioritize real-life interactions – Social media is not a replacement for real-life socializing, so ensure your teen has plenty of opportunities to engage with friends and family face-to-face. 

Above all, seek help if needed. If your teen is experiencing the negative effects of social media, the sooner you can interfere, the better. Keep the lines of communication open, and don’t hesitate to call a mental health professional if you think your child could benefit from professional support. 

At Retreat Family, we offer dedicated resources for helping both parents and teens navigate everyday mental health problems, including those caused by social media use. Learn more about our private counseling and virtual support groups, and get in touch for a free consultation.