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IGNORING THE OBVIOUS: Teens, Social Media & Mental Health

Updated: May 8, 2023

It's not a popular opinion, but it has to be said... "Social media is corrupting our kids." There. I said it. And I mean it.

We may not admit it easily but deep down we all know that social media has the power to desensitize and demoralize the masses. I've often referred to social media as a "necessary evil."  I use nearly every platform to share the good news of Jesus Christ. However, the dark side must not be overlooked.

According to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center 81% of US teens ages 13 to 17 use social media, with the most popular platforms being YouTube (85%), Instagram (71%), and Snapchat (65%). The older we get the more we gravitate to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. Comscore revealed stats saying 33% of teens & preteens (10-18) are using TikTok. And why shouldn't they use these platforms? We start putting screens in front of them before they can talk!

If you are raising a teenager, you realize that the kids of this age are a whole lot smarter, tech savvy, and resourceful then we ever imagined. They can build a network in just a few hours (or even minutes) online.  Danger looms when they "friend" random strangers and believe their stories at face value. If you don't think it's happening just Google "Chris Hanson" or "To Catch A Predator." The bad guys are thriving online!

Did you know that 45% of teens say they are online almost constantly, and 22% report going online multiple times per hour. Yes, even during the school day! If things escalate to your taking their mobile devices, they'll literally grieve the loss of that device like a drug addict being forced into rehab. They are inundated with information overload! Social media can provide an overwhelming amount of information, which can be difficult for teenagers to process. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, high stress, and depression. Social media can disrupt sleep patterns, and proper diet, which can lead to a host of mental health issues.

The online persona we often show the world on Social Media is usually far different than reality. That same Pew Research study shows that 29% of teens report feeling pressure to always show their "best self" on social media. More filters. Better hashtags. And lots of "fake" content. Looking for a ❤️or a 👍🏽 or a share. It's about followers, not truth. It's about image, not integrity. What else can we expect from a generation of kids that we've taught to believe there is no such thing as absolute truth?

FOMO - Fear of Missing Out. Look it up. It's real. And it's a serious problem for our teenagers. Social media platforms can create a sense of urgency and pressure to stay connected with friends and peers. This raises anxiety levels. Recent stats are that 24% of teens report feeling that social media distracts them from important activities, such as homework or spending time with family and friends. So even when they are "not missing out" they are still "missing out." Real relationships are pushed aside as they chase the phantom fake friends and platforms of distorted reality. Teenagers may feel anxious and stressed about missing out on social events, news, or updates from their friends... even when it's fake friends.

What about the bullying? If I told you that your kids were being bullied, how would you react? If they have social media... it's already happening. 15% of teens report being cyberbullied. 24% report having been contacted by a stranger online. Social media platforms cannot diminish bullying. In fact, teens using social media have seen an increased risk of both cyberbullying and bullying from school friends. Why would we support a platform where teenagers are subjected to negative comments, harassment, and shaming? This can lead to more anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and even self-harm.

I keep using the word "fake" because it accurately describes the persona most people use on social media. Everyone seems perfect. Social media can create an environment where teenagers feel the need to compare themselves to others constantly. This can lead to feelings of body shaming, inadequacy, low self-esteem, and even more anxiety. Honestly, it's a recipe for disaster.

It's worth noting that statistics vary by country and may change over time as social media platforms and usage patterns evolve. Overall, however, social media can have a significant impact on the mental health of our teenagers. It's important for parents, counselors, ministers, teachers and caregivers to monitor the use of social media with their teens and provide support when needed.

Be a listening ear. Be "present" for your teens. Teach the youth the value of "reality." And, if your a parent, it's time to step up. Have the tough conversations. Set boundaries. Establish rules. Check their phones and all devices that connect to the internet. Because if you don't do it tonight... you may not have tomorrow.

You are loved.

Ray Reynolds, PhD

** If you, or someone you know, is at risk of a mental health crisis please contact 866-903-3787 or Text HOME to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Counselor through Crisis Text Line, a global not-for-profit organization. Free, 24/7, confidential.**

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