How Social Media Affects Teenage Mental Health

Social media can be both beneficial and detrimental to our teenagers. On one hand, it can help keep them connected during the lockdown in building lasting relationships, but parents must be aware of hidden dangers.

Lockdown, COVID-19, self-isolation, homeschooling, online university, working from home - all of these have become very familiar terms, as the global pandemic is changing the face of the world in which we live. Our kids have had to do schooling online as they have been locked away indoors. They’ve missed out on sports, as well as the break time banter that is synonymous with being at school. In many cases, 

Social media has been a godsend, keeping them in touch with their friends and buffering the sense of isolation and loneliness, but there are two sides to this coin.

Face Time

A relatively new term, face time, allows us to see the person we are calling. Teens can interact, see facial expressions, even read the body language of the person they are speaking to. This helps them to keep an eye on and, to a degree, assess their emotional or mental state. 

It’s a way of being able to tell if their friends are “not okay” as well as to express if they feel that way. This form of communication, while not being as good as “the real thing,” has helped our teens to feel connected during a very trying time. 

Teens are more likely to talk to one another about their feelings than to their parents, making this form of communicating very helpful in the bigger picture.

Staying in Touch

Other forms of social media, the more public types, are generally a positive way for our kids we keep up with what’s happening in their friends’ lives. We have just had a Christmas/Festive Season, where many of us were not able to spend time with our extended families. 

According to psychology experts on My Assignment Help, people had to find new and creative ways to make their holidays festive, with fewer family members present. Our children have struggled with this, and it helps them scroll through photos of their friends’ smaller celebrations on social media, which “normalizes” the changes for them. 

So, while our holidays have been quieter, with less traveling and fewer people, the fact that it has been that way for all of us, can help to make your teen feel less like she has been “robbed” of her December holiday.

Watch Their Habits

As parents, while we may be grateful that our kids can stay connected, it is also vital that we keep an eye on the amount of time they spend online. They go off “to bed” and we assume they’re asleep, whereas they may be staying awake into the wee hours, chatting to friends – or strangers posing as friends. 

You may do well to have a shutdown time on the family Wi-Fi connection so that nobody can access anything online after that time. If your teen suddenly seems very moody and has dark circles under her eyes, it’s quite possible that she is sleep deprived because she was online the whole night. 

Sleep deprivation can lead to depression and loss of appetite. It can lead to emotional instability that can only be rectified by sufficient sleep. You may want to make it a rule that you are allowed access to their accounts, so you can monitor their habits, but try not to make it too invasive.

Self-Image & Your Teen

One of the pitfalls of social media is, believe it or not, that your teen is comparing him or herself with the glamorous images they see there. The cameras on modern cell phones allow us to beautify ourselves to such a degree that the image we display bears almost no resemblance to the real thing! 

We can make our eyes look bigger, narrow our jawline and even slim down our waistlines. Our teens look at these “enhanced” images and find themselves lacking, which can lead to poor self-image and feelings of self-doubt and even self-hatred. 

Social media platforms tend to place far too much emphasis on physical appearance and the media has reported cases of child suicide linked to cases of cyberbullying and body-shaming. It is far too easy to say cruel and hurtful things on the phone or computer screen - things that most times would never be said in person. 

Try to Remain Approachable

We know our teens don’t exactly find speaking to their parents “scintillating conversation” but try to make yourself approachable and keep an open mind. That way, your teen is less likely to hide his challenges from you. 

No matter how shocked you may be by the behavior of some kids online, the key is to try to temper your reaction and disguise your outrage. Your reaction will make or break the chances of your child approaching you in the event he or she is feeling threatened or hurt by what may have happened online. 

Try to remember that we also shocked our parents with our “outrageous” behavior when we were kids. If our parents were openly shocked or outraged, we were a lot less likely to be open with them. They seemed distant and unapproachable. Our kids need to know they can rely on us if they encounter anything that has a profound effect on their sense of wellbeing.

The Bottom Line – Balance Social Media Use for Kids

As can be clearly seen, social media can be both positive and negative; it can help, and it can harm. As parents, we can guide our teens by talking openly with them about the pitfalls and dangers out there, such as catfishing and cyber-bullying. 

We can point out that taking a photograph from a specific angle or adding “beautifying” filters can make us look good on a picture, but it is no more than lying to yourself in the end. 

We can interact with them, play fun board games, or throw a frisbee around in the garden. We can ensure that the Wi-Fi connection is shut down by 11 pm to ensure that they get enough sleep.

In the end, finding a good balance between screen time and family time, even if the family gathering is smaller this year, is vital. 

This article was kindly written and contributed by John Dickinson.

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