Mental Health and Social Media: Guiding Teens toward Mindful Online Practices

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Did you know that the average amount of time teens spend on social media daily is the same as the recommended amount of sleep they should be getting? According to Lifespan, “the average teen ages 13 to 18 spends about nine hours on social media each day” (Dalomba Frances). Even though social media can have positive effects, spending this much time per day on social media isn’t healthy for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons include disruptions in sleep, worsening mental health problems, low self-esteem, and cyberbullying.

The Pew Research Center reports that “97% of 13-17 year-olds use at least one of the seven major online platforms” (Dalomba, Frances). Social media doesn’t have to be eradicated from teenagers’ lives, but there needs to be a way to find some balance. Social media usage has become a huge part of teen culture today, but the overuse of it has caused many other problems, and there needs to be a revaluation of how long teens should be on social media platforms each day.

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Social media has created many positive opportunities for teens all over the world.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018, “found that more than 80 percent of teens surveyed said social media helped them feel more connected to their friends, and more than two- thirds said social networks helped them interact with a more diverse group of people and made them feel as though they had a support system during trying times” (Locklear, Mallory). Social media has opened up a whole new world of communication amongst teens that can be very helpful and exciting.

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However, many teens are unaware of the negative effects that come along with abuse of social media.

Teenagers have been steadily increasing the amount of time they spend on social media every year. Research in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that using more than 3 hours of social media a day may put someone at heightened risk of mental health problems; particularly internalizing problems. (“Impacts of Social Media”). Teenagers use social media an average of nine hours a day, which means that the average teenager is putting themselves at a greater risk for mental health issues because of their screen time. Limiting time on social media and finding a healthy balance is key to navigating through mental health issues.

In our society today, these consequences need to be addressed more actively to teens, so they can be more aware of the effects that overusing social media really has on them. One of the main issues that comes with social media addiction is a greatly heightened risk of mental health issues. According to Truelist, “symptoms of depression are twice as likely to appear in those who spend more than 5 hours a day on their smartphones” (“Social Media Addiction”). As mentioned before, the average teenager will spend about 9 hours on social media a day, so most teens are twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression. Social media is also directly linked to people having trouble sleeping and feeling restless. Lack of sleep is another factor that plays into worsening mental health issues.

According to Forbes, “very high users” are categorized as people who use more than 5 hours of screen time and, “users were around 70% more likely to fall asleep after 11 pm on school nights… and they were also more likely to say they had trouble falling back asleep after waking” (Walton, Alice). Both mental health issues and sleep deprivation piggyback off of each other. Overusing social media only makes both of these issues worse, which can then cause other problems in teenagers’ lives. Teenagers may think that social media actually helps their mental health, and many use it as a coping mechanism. This has the opposite effect that they intend it to have, as many studies have proven that using social media to make yourself feel better, will almost always end up making you feel worse.

A 2018 study concluded that mental health issues related to social media can also lead to memory loss and poor academic performance. (“Social Dilemma”). Mental health issues are a very big problem in today’s society among teens, and the more depressed teens feel, the more likely they are to turn to social media to feel better. Limiting time on social media will greatly lower teens’ chances of developing anxiety and depression because they won’t have that negative outlet to attempt and cure their boredom with. This was proven in a study in 2018 conducted by the University of Pennsylvania. They took 143 undergraduate students and randomly assigned them to two groups. The first group was limited to 10 minutes a day, and the second group remained with their regular use of social media.

The first group showed significantly lower signs of depression and anxiety. (“Social Dilemma”). This experiment proves that you can still use social media positively without many of these negative consequences. Depression and anxiety are extremely important issues that can arise while abusing social media, so there needs to be limits laid out to teens to help avoid these issues from arising. Another issue that arises with excessive hours of social media is self-image and self- esteem issues. Social media portrays many people’s lives as a glorified version of what they aren’t.

A study conducted by King University showed that “87% of women and 65% of men compare their bodies to the images they consume on social media” (“Link between Social Media and Body Image”). Within this statistic, 50% of women and 37% of men compare themselves in unfavorable ways. (“Link between Social Media and Body Image”). Even if you don’t mean to, it’s hard to not judge yourself based on things you see online that are glorified as what “you should look like or be like”. So many things that you see on social media are fake in some way.

For example, many influencers with big platforms have been called out for photoshopping images of themselves to fit into the stereotypical norm of what beauty is. People go on social media and see these pictures and think that’s what they should look like, when in reality, the people in the picture don’t even look like that themselves. The more time that teens scroll through their feed, the worse they begin to feel about themselves because of these overly praised posts. Another thing that happens when using social media is how it tries to shape what you see based on what you like/look at.

The National Center for Health Research points out that, “young people who feel good about themselves tend to post only positive things online, which creates a positive feedback loop. The same goes to having low self-esteem” (“How to Help your Teen Navigate Social Media”). If you are happy with your life and post happy things online, these social media sites will track that and show you more happy and positive things. The only problem with this is that if you are sad and posting sad things, you will mainly see negative things on your social media. Seeing these negative things all over the place will lead you to think this is how everyone feels and acts, when in reality it isn’t. Another glaring issue with abusing social media is FOMO. FOMO stands for “fear of missing out”.

Help Guide describes FOMO as “something that can keep you coming back to your phone to see what you might be missing out on or not a part of” (Robinson, Lawrence). I have spoken to a lot of my friends about this, and it is a feeling that a lot of us experience often. There is this constant fear in the back of the mind that if you don’t go on social media right now, you’ll miss out on something you need to see or be a part of. Stomp Out Bullying asked around 2,600 teens how many times they check their social media every day, and the results came in as 100 times a day, minimum. (“Teens Use an Average of Nine Hours”).

If limits are placed on social media, teens won’t have to resist the urge to check their social media all the time. Teensagers’ self-image and self-esteem are greatly affected by the things they see online. Finding a way to help teens limit the amount of time they spend scrolling through social media can have a tremendous impact on their confidence and self- esteem. Finally, social media is so addictive it can take over happy things in your life and replace it with itself. Our Teen Brains explain that “social media activates this reward pathway exceptionally quickly and consistently, causing a rush of dopamine and pleasure in teenagers, leading to addiction” (“The Effect of Social Media on the Teenage Brain”).

Teens tend to replace things in their lives they don’t want to do or don’t feel like doing by scrolling through their social media feed. From personal experience, it’s very hard to be sitting near my phone and not pick it up and get sucked into scrolling for hours. Even with friends, sometimes everyone will just go silent and sit on their phones and stare. Occasionally someone might say something about a post they just saw on Instagram, but that’s pretty much it. Social media is an easy access thing for teens to use to make themselves feel happy, but in reality it’s an unhealthy addiction.

This addiction can lead teens to base their whole self worth on who likes their post, or how many comments they get. Also said by Our Teen Brains, “teenagers get a rush of excitement when someone likes their posts on social media sites like instagram, but also get a sense of disappointment and punishment when an individual ignores or doesn’t like one of their posts” (“The Effect of Social Media on the Teenage Brain”). You can get a rush of dopamine when something good happens on social media, but if something goes wrong, that can cause you to spiral very fast.

An easy way to avoid this attachment to social media, is just to limit how much time you spend on it per day. Social media is a very helpful tool, but it can also be harmful for a number of different reasons. Its addictive nature can rope teens in very quickly, even if they don’t mean for it to happen. Spending too much time on social media can sprout mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Social media also portrays people’s lives as something they aren’t, which can cause self-esteem and confidence issues.

In the Clinical Psychological Science Journal, they reported that between the years 2010 and 2015 there was a 33% increase in the number of teens who committed suicide. They also found that these numbers directly correlated with teens who used social media more than others. (“Social Media and Low Self-Esteem”). Using social media can be a very helpful tool, but using it too much can cause harmful issues that relate to wellbeing. Teens need to be educated on the effects of social media, so they are more aware and then more empowered to take a step back and reflect on their social media usage.

Cite this page

Mental Health and Social Media: Guiding Teens toward Mindful Online Practices. (2023, Feb 18). Retrieved from

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