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The Effect of Social Media on Teen Mental Health Depends on How It’s Used

social media and teen mental health

The Effect of Social Media on Teen Mental Health Depends on How It’s Used

A recent study by Oxford University researchers suggested that the amount of time children spend on social media only has a small effect on their happiness. They believe that the link between social media and teen mental health is not inconclusive but rather inconsistent depending on self-reports and other underlying issues. They hope to continue their study by shifting their focus from time spent using social media platforms to how teens are using them. We can agree that while technology can be addictive and affects executive functioning to an extent, there is a reason that we are drawn to using social media, including many benefits as well.

Are the Effects of Social Media Use Universal?

Social media is too large of a category to make generalizations about its effects. According to the Royal Society for Public Health, who conducted a study comparing each major platform to factors related to health and well being,  Youtube is considered the most positive platform while Instagram is the most negative. Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat make up the rest of the top five, in that order. Factors considered included emotional support, depression, body image, loneliness, sleep, self-expression, self-identity, community building, and bullying.

Chief executive Shirley Cramer notes that both Instagram and Snapchat “are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people. Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect. These platforms are more addictive for social validation than cigarettes and alcohol.”

Meeting a Need or Filling a Void?

Like all addictions, social media is addictive because it meets certain needs. The uses and gratifications theory suggests that the effects of social media use depend on why people are drawn to certain types of media.

  • To be informed or educated. We have a world of information at our fingertips that is just not possible in a library. For some people, this can be overwhelming when trying to filter out relevant information. Some news sources are more reliable than others. We also tend to over-rely on our ability to Google answers rather than using our own intuition or imagination for answers. The ability to Google trivial questions can make for a questionable search history, but an extensive bank of knowledge.
  • To identify with characters of the situation in the media environment. For teens struggling with anxiety or depression or that feel underrepresented in their community for a variety of reasons often turn to social media to find role models that empower them to be themselves and learn more about what makes them who they are. Some role models have more positive messages than others and some may encourage risk-taking and unrealistic expectations; however, it helps teenagers to feel understood and heard.
  • For simple entertainment. Sometimes you just need to watch a compilation of dog videos. While some parents are concerned about their teen’s lack of productivity when they enter an autoplay wormhole, laughter is good for the soul and for social connectivity. More people are choosing social media over cable TV for entertainment, which usually comes in shorter bursts of entertainment.
  • To enhance social interaction. The initial purpose of social media. While cyberbullying is becoming more common, most teens report that they have met new people and found new communities online that have supported their personal growth. Social media improves networking opportunities by helping you keep in touch with people you do know and get to know people you’d like to know more. Privacy settings can be activated to protect personal information.
  • To escape from the stresses of daily life. At the end of the day, the people we are online are censored versions of our realities. Many platforms online are used as a distraction from negative emotions, while others are used to reach out for support on particularly rough days.

There are positive and negative effects associated with each type of motivation. It all really depends on the individual. It is becoming more unrealistic to suggest that your teenagers shouldn’t be using social media, but it is helpful to encourage them to consider their intentions and to be aware of how they spend their time online.

How ViewPoint Can Help

ViewPoint Center is a short-term residential Crisis and Assessment Center for adolescents ages 12 to 17 that helps stabilize and assess teenagers struggling with process addictions and mental health issues. We believe that process addictions, ranging from substance use to technology, have a reciprocal relationship with underlying emotional issues. Before ViewPoint, families are often frustrated and lost. Varying doctors and therapists with a range of advice, diagnoses, and plans leaves parents and children unsure of where to turn. At ViewPoint, we centralize all of the different diagnoses, and create a comprehensive holistic report to help your teen and your family to get back on track and transition to the next stage of their recovery.