Is Social Media Bad for Teens?

Teenagers interacting with phones

Social media psychology is an emerging field which you may decide to pursue a career in. Social media is a near-constant presence in the lives of many teenagers in the United States. According to a Pew Research Center report, 95 percent of teens have a smartphone, 45 percent report being online “almost constantly” and only three percent of teens surveyed report not using any social media platforms at all. This raises an important question: Does social media impact the mental, behavioral and social health of teenagers?

Social Media Can Have Positive Benefits on Mental and Social Health

It is helpful to go directly to adolescents when evaluating the effect of social media on teens. The Pew Research report concludes that nearly half of all teens beliefs that social media has no positive or negative impact on their health. About three in 10 teens reported that social media has affected their social health in a positive way because it:

  • Allows self-expression
  • Facilitates connections with friends and family
  • Enables them to “meet” new people with the same interests
  • Makes it easier to find news and other information
  • Allows them to seek support from others

Social media can allow people to feel like they fit in with a group of people. It can also decrease isolation and loneliness, while increasing the ability to connect with others over shared interests in views. When looking at the potential benefits of social media, it is necessary to draw a line between teens who are actively engaged online and those who are passively browsing.

A study from the University of Missouri found that users who actively post and comment to stay connected with friends and family are likely to find social media beneficial for social health. However, those who use social media for “surveillance” to passively keep up with others rather than posting or commenting are more likely to develop envy of others and increase their risk of depression.

Social Media Can Have Negative Effects on Mental and Social Health

Social media envy is a widespread phenomenon. Users on social media platforms do not see a complete depiction of the lives of other users. A typical social media user will upload posts about fun vacations, accomplishments and other positive parts of their life. However, they tend not to post about negative things going on in their life. When a teenager passively looks at these apparently perfect lives, it can inspire feelings of depression and self-hatred because their life seems less perfect.

A study in Clinical Psychological Science looked at the social media and electronic device usage among teenagers and compared it to the rate of teen suicide between 2010 and 2015. The researchers discovered that 48 percent of teenagers who spend at least five hours per day on electronic devices have at least one risk factor of suicide. Only 33 percent of teens who spend two hours per day online had at least one risk factor.

However, it is important to note that the data are inconclusive. There is a correlation between social media use and depression or suicide, but this does not mean that social media use is the cause. It is possible that teens who are prone to depression and suicidal ideation are more likely to go on social media for many hours per day.

Social Media Has the Potential to Lead to Addiction

Another major issue in social media psychology is the potential for social media addiction. While social media addiction has not been recognized as an official mental health disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, excessive social media and internet usage can share similar characteristics of impulse control disorders and gambling addiction. Some of the most common manifestations of addictive behavior among social media users includes:

  • Preoccupation with social media, even when not currently using it
  • Attempts to cut back on usage, but failure to do so
  • Using social media to cope with negative problems or regulate mood
  • Sleep loss, moodiness and irritability

Therapists who study social media psychology can help teenagers struggling with social media usage by encouraging them to minimize their time spent online. Replacing time spent online with real-world activities can help teenagers improve in their ability to build healthy relationships and enjoy healthy interactions with people in offline settings.

If you feel called to help children, teens or adults work through obstacles to their mental and social health, consider beginning your journey at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Psychology program follows an intensive curriculum that covers topics such as health psychology, child and adolescent psychology and psychological research methods. To learn more about Psychology and Counseling programs offered by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, visit our website or click on the Request More Information button on this page.

Sources:

Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018, May 31). Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/

News Bureau, University of Missouri. (2015, February 3). If Facebook Use Causes Envy, Depression Could Follow. Retrieved from https://munewsarchives.missouri.edu/news-releases/2015/0203-if-facebook-use-causes-envy-depression-could-follow/

Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2017). Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–17. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167702617723376

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