Teens attached to their smartphones and social media is a ubiquitous sight in the era of modern technology. As much as parents would love to prevent their teens from spending so much time on their social media feeds, it is an uphill battle. But how does social media affect teens, anyway?
Consider the amount of time a typical teen spends scrolling through social media. A recent poll of over 9,200 teens reported spending a whopping 5-8 hours a day on their social media platforms. That time investment alone will surely have adverse effects on a teen’s physical and mental health. To learn more about the effects of social media on teens, keep reading.
Why is Social Media So Addicting?
On its face, social media may seem like a harmless pastime. Teens are just connecting with friends over an app, right? Because of the nature of social media, however, and how these tools affect the user, you can start to see the problems.
Social media is built on a strategy that is a lot like gambling at slot machines. Every time you get attention on a social media post you get a little shot of dopamine. Like the slots giving you a little dopamine hit when you hear the coins fall (now electronically). Each time a teen sees a positive comment or a like on their social media, they experience a little high, and that reinforces the behavior.
When reading a nice compliment on social media, the brain’s reward system records it as pleasurable and something to be repeated. The teen feels hopeful they will have the same experience each time they log in.
Each time the teen receives positive input on social media, it reinforces their desire to keep checking their feed. This cycle is very similar to the way substance addictions and behavioral addictions develop.
10 Ways Social Media Effect Teens
There are some positive effects of social media, such as learning how to communicate with others and express yourself. However, teens may suffer a multitude of harms due to bullying, shaming, and feeling less than others while on these platforms. Consider these effects of social media on teens:
- Harms their self-esteem. Teens are very sensitive to how they are perceived. One problem with spending so much time on social media is the misguided belief that everyone is better than you. The teen thinks the people on their feed are better looking, happier, and smarter than them.
- Being bullied. Teens can use social media to inflict emotional harm on others. They may use the platforms to bully. They berate a schoolmate and spread lies about them and gossip about them. Online bullying can have tragic results, including suicide.
- May cause depression. Studies have shown that teens that engage in heavy social medial use may feel more isolated and lonely. They may have been left out of social events they saw postings about on social media. All of this can bring on depression.
- Lack of sleep. The more the teen uses social media, the more it gobbles up their time and the less sleep they will get. The lack of sleep then has spillover effects, such as low mood, low energy, and poor concentration in school.
- Reduces productivity. Social media is a major distraction in a teen’s life. It interferes with the ability to focus on tasks, such as homework or any project that requires attention.
- Poor fitness. Teens often trade off physical activity in favor of sitting around and scrolling through social media, sometimes for hours. This can lead to obesity, poor fitness, and health problems.
- May cause anxiety. Teens may use social media to vent their drama, such as tiffs between friends or romantic interests. Some teens might share unflattering or revealing photos of the other without asking. Social media can become a source of anxiety.
- Loss of interest. Some teens become so preoccupied with the people they follow online that they lose interest in real life hobbies and activities. This can lead to social isolation and loneliness eventually.
- Body dysmorphia. Teens are very sensitive about their body image, and social media only worsens this tendency. Teens view the steady stream of perfect bodies and begin to compare those images with their own shape. They start to fixate on their perceived flaws, and some may believe they are even obese when in reality their weight is normal.
- Fear of missing out. Teenagers have a deep desire to feel accepted, so they fixate on social media in order to never miss out. The fear of missing out, or FOMO, is very real.
The overall effect of social media is negative for teens. They haven’t developed the skills yet to manage their time or to critique what they see on their feeds. They are susceptible to being swept up in the drama and can become insecure as a result.
Finding Help For Teens Negatively Affected By Social Media
Parents may find that their teen is exhibiting signs of depression or low self-esteem as a result of excessive social media use. Parents may have already put limits on the time spent online but still, their teen is showing signs of distress. If this is the case, their teen may benefit from meeting with a therapist to explore the factors affecting their mood.
When therapy doesn’t appear to be helping, the teen may need a higher level of care, such as a residential mental health treatment program. The residential program allows the teen to spend an extended period of time focusing on their mental health. By taking a break from social media they are able to work on themselves without distraction.
If you are a parent who is worried about how social media affects teens, you are already ahead of the curve. Your concern shows how much you care about your teenager and want them to be mentally healthy.
BNI Treatment Centers Residential Mental Health Treatment for Teens
BNI Treatment Centers is a leader in the mental healthcare of teens ages 12-17. If you are noticing your teenager struggling and suspect it may be tied to their time on social media, we can help. Call us today at (866) 644-7911.