Adolescence is a time of unprecedented cognitive and physical growth and vivid experiences of new ideas, feelings, and ambitions. It’s a period of intense learning and development, but it is also a high-risk period for impulsive behavior, and for the onset of mental health and substance use disorders. It’s not unusual for young people to experience “the blues” or feel “down in the dumps” occasionally.
Unrealistic academic, social, or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. When things go wrong at school or at home, teens often overreact. Many young people feel that life is not fair or that things “never go their way.” They feel “stressed out” and confused. Today’s teens see more of what life has to offer — both good and bad — on television, at school, in magazines and on the Internet. The high need to communicate and share feelings and emotions is a dominating need and necessity in today’s life. That too by being accepted the way we are. With that expectation social media became a best platform for the unhappy and restless teens.
Social media dramatically changed the way we communicate, socialize, and make and maintain friendships. While there are benefits of living in a digital world, there are also risks. Today’s youth miss out on critical social skills development when they spend the majority of their free time connected to and interacting through a screen.
It’s easier to make statements on a screen that would otherwise be difficult to verbalize face to face. And disjointed shorthand conversations can easily result in misunderstandings. It doesn’t help that digital communication occurs at a rapid pace, one that is difficult to process at times.
One report by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK surveyed 1500 young people, ages 14 to 24, to determine the effects of social media use on issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and body image. Their findings show that YouTube had the most positive impact, while Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat all had negative effects on mental health.
While these findings might make you want to delete all social media apps and ban your teen from any digital communication, avoidance isn’t the answer. A better bet is to understand how and why your teen uses social media, stay connected, and know what to look for if your teen shows unexplained emotional changes.
The Upside of Social Media
There are some positive aspects of social media. It’s important to remember that teens are hardwired for socialization, and social media makes socializing easy and immediate. Teens who struggle with social skills, social anxiety, or who don’t have easy access to face-to-face socializing with other teens might benefit from connecting with other teens through social media.
Teens in marginalized groups—including LGBTQ teens and teens struggling with mental health issues—can find support and friendship through the use of social media. When teens connect with small groups of supportive teens via social media, those connections can be the difference between living in isolation and finding support.
How to help your teen navigate social media
Believe it or not, your teen does want your support and guidance, but it can be hard to strike a balance between helping and trying to fix everything. Follow these tips to support your teen:
- Ask questions
Teens need autonomy in their lives, so micromanaging their online use can backfire. The best thing parents can do is engage with their teens. Ask which apps your teen uses the most often and why. Give your teen the space to tell you about the benefits of social media.
- Model appropriate behavior
Modeling is very important during adolescence. When parents follow their own rules and stick to their own boundaries, teen learns important lessons in self-care and setting limits.
- Talk often
Talk about your own experiences with social media. Have you ever experienced envy when scrolling through your feed? Have you accepted a friend request that turned out to be a fake profile because you didn’t take the time to look? When parents share their own experiences and talk openly about the highs and lows of social media, teens are more likely to open up about their experiences.
A connection is a key when it comes to parenting teens in a modern world. The single best thing you can do for your teen is making time for face-to-face connections and simply be present.