Social media is a big part of just about every teenager’s social life. It’s estimated 92 percent of teens in this country are active on at least one social media platform, such as YouTube, TikTok or SnapChat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Social media influences youth in a variety of ways — for better or worse. While many studies have shown a connection between social media and adolescent depression and anxiety, Brooks Collins-Gaines, a mental health therapist in Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Behavioral Health Center, argues the positives of social networking can outweigh the negatives.
“Social media has the potential to enhance social connections among youth and even improve a child’s mental well-being,” she said. “It creates a sense of connection and belonging among peers, expands kids’ community and exposes them to diversity.”
Sharing photos and commenting on social media helps kids stay in touch with peers, long after the school bell rings, and family members that live far away. In addition, kids can learn more about their interests and build supportive communities with others who identify the same way as them, whether it’s a certain personality trait, ability, special interest or even gender or sexuality.
“It’s empowering for kids to know there’s a community who gets them, who’s going through similar situations,” said Brooks. “When teens feel that connection, it can close social isolation, which has been linked to increasing mental health challenges.”
So, how can parents ensure social media is improving their child’s mental health, instead of harming it? Recent research suggests it all comes down to balance and using social media in a healthy, positive way.
“Social media is easy access for bullying, opens kids up to negative influences or inappropriate behaviors, or can perpetuate negative thoughts or feelings, especially if a teen is already struggling with mental health,” Brooks said. “The challenge is ensuring kids are creating an algorithm of social support, recognizing negative influences and when to block them, and making good choices when accepting friend requests.”
Helping kids build healthy relationships with social media
As parents, you can guide your kids toward healthy social media habits by keeping an open, honest and ongoing dialogue about their social media use and serving as a positive role model through your own social media habits.
You also can teach kids healthy social networking habits by:
- Limiting recreational screen time and ensuring kids maintain a healthy balance between social media and other important in-person activities.
- Establishing family rules and boundaries around social media use, such as internet privacy and safety, screen-free zones, and exercising kindness and empathy in all interactions.
- Limiting access to certain platforms, if necessary, especially for children under age 13.
- Participating and following your kids — and their friends — on the platforms they’re using to see what’s being posted and what information they’re exposed to.
Signs of unhealthy relationships with social media
Teens are smart and secretive, so even if you’re monitoring their online participation, you may miss some interactions.
If you notice any of the following behaviors, it could be a sign your teen is struggling with social media or using it in a negative way:
- Extreme mood swings or a negative demeanor during or after being on the phone or participating in social media
- Becomes less engaged at home, or isolates from friends and family
- Your teen’s only outlet is social networking and is constantly itching to get back online. Social media use may be interrupting proper diet and sleep habits.
- Becomes secretive about social media use or gets defensive about it
- Only talks negatively about social media and doesn’t have anything positive to say about what she finds online
“With social media, you take the good with the bad,” said Brooks. “But understanding connections between social media and mental health can help us guide our teens toward healthy social media habits.”
If you think your child is struggling significantly with social media, Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center offers mental health services via in-person or telehealth. Call 330-543-5015 to schedule an appointment.