These days, teenagers have a bad reputation for being moody, lazy, ungrateful and spoiled. Our personal teenage years are remembered by many parents as a period of self-doubt, experimentation, and rebellion. Puberty, bullying and confrontation with peers and parents were just some of the dramatic side effects of entering our teenage years, with society’s pressures after high school only aggravating the whole concept of “growing up” for young people.
But since the invention of social media, things have changed dramatically for teenagers – for both good and bad. With the internet in their pocket, an ever-growing list of “followers”, unmanageable numbers of virtual friends and with access to pretty much every platform, resource and community in the world, a millennium teenager is subject to an entirely different host of influences than a child of the 80’s was.
According to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian teenagers are spending up to 18 hours a week online. The most popular online activity for the demographic was social networking, used by 91% of those aged 15-19 years old and the favoured networks are those that are image focused, such as Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook and Twitter are coming to rely heavily on multimedia given the tendency for videos, GIFs and images to attract higher rates of engagement. The number of “likes” one attracts equates to popularity, and in order to gain the popular vote, young people must often compromise their unique identity in some way, shape or form.
So, what impact does social media have on a teenagers’ mental health?
For many teenagers, social media can be highly addictive, so it’s no surprise that the pressure to be available 24/7 on social media is a very real challenge for them. Social networking plays a vital role in broadening teen social connections and helping them learn valuable technical skills. But what impact is all this social networking having on young teen minds? Most reports indicate that the impact can be significant.
Depression & Anxiety
Researchers have discovered that social media use can be associated with more intense symptoms of anxiety and depression, including a decrease in social activity and an increase in loneliness.
A study published in “Computers in Human Behaviour” found people who used more than seven social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression than people who used two or fewer sites.
As teens these days often feel emotionally invested in their social media accounts, they not only feel pressure to respond quickly online, but they also feel pressure to have perfect photos and posts, all of which can cause a great deal of anxiety. Some studies have found that the larger a teen’s online social circle, the more anxiety they feel about keeping up with everything and everyone online. It takes a lot of time and effort to keep up with the unspoken rules and culture of each social media platform. As a result, this puts additional pressure on teens, which can cause feelings of anxiety.
Additionally, if teens commit a ‘faux pas’ online, this also can be an extreme source of anxiety. Many teenagers, especially girls, are prone to worry about what others might think of them and how they will respond when they see them next. Then factor in cyber-bullying, slut-shaming, and other negative online behaviours and you can see why social media is a very real source of anxiety for many teens.
Sometimes teens spend so many hours on social media that they begin to lose valuable sleep. Consequently, this sleep loss can lead to moodiness, slipping grades and over-eating, as well as aggravate existing problems like depression, anxiety, and other behavioural issues.
One study published in the “Journal of Youth Studies” surveyed 900 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 about their social media use and its impact on sleep. One out of five (and a significantly higher number of girls) said they “almost always” wake up during the night and log in to social media.
In addition to reporting feeling tired all the time, they also reported being less happy on average than teens whose sleep was not disturbed by social media. Teenagers need more sleep than adults do, so logging into social media in the middle of the night can be detrimental to their physical health as well. Aside from feeling tired and irritable, lack of sleep can lower the immune system and a child increases their risk of getting sick as a result.
Envy & Jealousy
Jealousy and envy, while normal emotions, can wreak havoc on a teenager’s brain if they dwell on what someone else has or has experienced, that they themselves have not. And because people tend to post only the positive things that they experience or make light of the bad with funny little anecdotes, it can appear to the reader that other people lead more exciting lives than they do.
Unfortunately, what teens often don’t realise is that people tend to only post the good on social media and often keep the mundane or difficult experiences offline. As a result, another person’s life may look perfect online, but offline they have struggles just like anyone else.
It’s easy for a teenager to play the comparison game and start thinking that everyone is happier or better off than they are. This can feed into depression, loneliness, anger and a variety of other issues. Envy, if not dealt with, often leads to bullying and mean behaviour. Many mean girls target others because they are jealous of her clothes, boyfriend, successes, or any number of other things.
Many teenagers spend so much time online checking statuses and likes that they forget to interact with real people right in front of them, and personal relationships can suffer when social media takes centre stage in a person’s life. As a result, teens risk having relationships that aren’t deep or authentic. Teenagers who place a priority on social media will often focus on the pictures they take that show how much fun they are having rather than actually focusing on having fun. The end result is that their friendships suffer.
While social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, it also is not the same as face-to-face communication. A teenager cannot see a person’s facial expressions or hear their tone of voice online, so it’s very easy for misunderstandings to occur, especially when people try to be funny or sarcastic online.
How Counselling @ Voxon can help
Because so much brain development takes place during the teen years, it is important that parents understand the impact that social media use can have on their kids. It’s important to establish guidelines for social media use and also for families to have regular discussions on how to use social media responsibly and safely. When families navigate the world of social media together, a teen’s online world becomes much more manageable.