For many parents summer couldn’t get here soon enough. After a school year of hectic schedules, less structured days will be a welcome break. But for adolescents, who don’t have their daily activities planned for them, they suddenly find they have to learn how to manage their free time. For so many teens, this means nonstop social media. Social media has its benefits and it’s great for kids to be able to stay in touch with friends over the summer.
The challenge is how our kids balance their digital world with the real world and to make certain that the increased use over the summer isn’t having a negative impact on your teen’s emotional health.
With social media playing such a big part in our teens’ lives, could they be sacrificing their mental health and well-being as well as their time? The reality is that in today’s social media culture adolescents encounter constant temptations and pressures to their social and emotional health. There is no question that online habits and curiosities have the potential for negative consequences. And while social media platforms can have their benefits, using them too frequently can sometimes make one feel increasingly unhappy and isolated. The continuous bombardment of perfectly filtered photos that appear on Instagram are bound to have an impact on a teen’s self-esteem, and just one negative comment can be devastating for them.
Studies are starting to reveal that too much time spent scrolling through social media can result in symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Here are some key indicators to be aware of:
- Focusing on likes: The need to gain “likes” on social media can cause teens to make choices they would otherwise not make, including altering their appearance, engaging in negative behaviors, and accepting risky social media challenges.
- Cyberbullying: Teens girls in particular are at risk of cyberbullying through use of social media, but teen boys are not immune. Cyberbullying is associated with depression, anxiety, and an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts.
- Making comparisons: Though many teens know that their peers share only their highlight reels on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. Everything from physical appearance to life circumstances to perceived successes and failures are under a microscope on social media.
- Having too many fake friends: Even with privacy settings in place, teens can collect thousands of friends through friends of friends on social media. The more people on the friend list, the more people have access to screenshot photos, Snaps, and updates and use them for other purposes. There is no privacy on social media.
- Less face time: Social interaction skills require daily practice, even for teens. It’s difficult to build empathy and compassion (our best weapons in the war on bullying) when teens spend more time “engaging” online than they do in person. Human connection is a powerful tool and builds skills that last a lifetime.
*List adapted from: Sherman, Lauren, “The Power of the Like in Adolescence: Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media,”
Summer break is a good time to have a conversation with your teen and ask “How do you really feel before, during and after your time on social media? Do you feel jealous, upset, and stressed?”
If you’re finding that your teen is being adversely affected by their online social activity, it may be time to help them closely reexamine their use.
You can help your kids navigate their online world by keeping the lines of communication open and keep talking. Honest communication shows your teen that you are available for support and not to judge or lecture them. It’s also important to model healthy habits by balancing your digital time with ‘real time’. Summer can be the time to disconnect as a family and create opportunities for digital detox. As parents, it is important to become aware of the impact social media is having on our children and then give them the tools they need to live a healthy, balanced life.