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Social Media and Teen Mental Health—What's the Connection?

Remember when phones were all about making phone calls? Now, especially for teens, phones are all about gluing their eyes to myriad social media screens. Today, the typical teen spends up to seven hours and 22 minutes a day on social media.

There are benefits to social media, such as entertainment and self-expression. But social media can also be harmful to mental health.

Bad advice has made a home on social media

"Teens are particularly prone to misinformation on social media that has a negative effect on their mental health," says Laura M. White, PhD, MS, a child and adolescent psychologist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute at University of Utah Health. "There are so many people on social media platforms giving inaccurate and harmful advice about mental health, what drugs to take, and medical diagnoses.” 

Additionally, posts and videos exist that promote self-harm and substance use. 

“Unfortunately, teens’ brains are still developing, so they struggle to recognize that what they see online is skewed, inaccurate, and possibly dangerous,” White says.

Social media and depression

Social comparison by teens using social media has been linked to symptoms of depression. Even viewing others' photos can lead to declines in life satisfaction. The longer teens consume social media, the more they believe their peers are happier than they are—and the less satisfied they are about their own lives. 

“Teens crave peer acceptance, but they are also naïve and impulsive, which can result in sharing intimate photos and details about their lives,” White says. “Such sharing puts teens at high risk to be harassed, cyberbullied, blackmailed, or even taken advantage of by online predators.”

Less social media, more being social

Social media isn't really all that social. The time your teen spends on social media is time that they aren't spending in-person with their friends. Social media can lead to social isolation. Meeting with friends is critical for developing social skills and building positive self-esteem.

As a parent, what can you do?

White advises parents to have an honest, open discussion with their teen about healthy social media use. 

Consider setting these goals with your teen:

  • Set reasonable time limits for social media viewing. Encourage making the bedroom at night a smartphone-free zone. White strongly recommends that parents have their teen turn in all electronics (phone, tablet, etc.) at night.
  • Set restrictions on the websites or content your teen is allowed to view. Also, monitor your teen's accounts and set location alerts. Bark is an example of one app that allows parents to set healthy technology boundaries with parental controls.
  • Set a good example. If you're doing a lot of scrolling on your smartphone, your teen won't take your advice.


Don't hesitate to reach out

If you're concerned about your teen's use of social media, don't hesitate to reach out to someone you love to talk about what you're feeling or contact a warm line near you. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988, which offers easy-to-access compassionate care for people experiencing any type of mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide, self-harm, and substance use, or any emotional distress for either themselves or their loved ones.