Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury predicted a future in which people would be so consumed by technology that they would forget that which makes us human. Communication, deep bonds, soul-searching, imagination, and complex novels would be relics of the past. Instead, we would be entranced by our televisions and “seashells” (similar to earphones), which would regularly bombard us with frivolous, shallow entertainment and information. As a result, people would be unhappy, anxious, depressed, and unfulfilled.
Has that nightmarish scenario come to fruition? While the inventions of social media and smartphones have certainly made our lives more convenient and resulted in instant communication, there are also several drawbacks, particularly for young people. Experts are sounding the alarm on teen mental health and its correlation to high social media use. Here is what we know, as well as some advice for parents and teachers.
Teens and Social Media Use by the Stats
While people of all ages tend to be on social media, the numbers are particularly high for teens. A survey by Pew Research showed that nearly 45% of 13-17-year olds are constantly online, while 97% use some sort of social media platform such as Tik Tok, Facebook, or Twitter. Unlike older generations, phone calls are no longer a primary way to reach others. Teens tend to text or use one of the many platforms to connect with friends and family members. This has made a lot of teen communication entirely virtual.
Here are some other key stats to know:
· 75% of teens have at least one social media profile
· 51% of teens visit one social media site each day
· 2/3 of teens have a smartphone with the internet
· YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat are the most popular platforms for teens
· 40% of teens claim social media has a positive impact, while 24% believe it is negative
· Of those who believe it is negative, 27% say bullying is the primary factor. 17% say social media harms relationships and decreases in-person interactions
Teens, Social Media, and Mental Health
Social media may have some benefits for teens’ mental health. It can enable shy individuals or those who feel isolated to connect with others in a virtual space. It can also provide a way to keep in touch with friends, which was critical during Covid-19. Social media can also be a place to express oneself and find like-minded communities and/or advice. It can also be easier to talk to others online than in real life.
Of course, the negatives may outweigh the positives. Teens are more distracted, anxious, and depressed than they were pre-social media. One study showed that 12-15-year olds who spend 3 plus hours a day on social media have more mental health problems. Another study showed that teens who go on social media at night tend to have worse sleeping problems.
And of course, there is online bullying and predators to worry about. Teens may be bullied online without parents ever knowing about it. Rumors spread much faster and personal information can easily be leaked. Predators can also take advantage of vulnerable youth.
Finally, a lot of teens see false versions of their friends online and feel the need to compare. This can lead to increased anxiety and low self-esteem. A 2013 study found that older teens who viewed others’ feeds and photos feel worse about themselves and life in general.
Tips for Parents and Teachers
The internet isn’t going anywhere. Even if a parent buys a flip phone and monitors all online activity, their child can still find a way to go online. Technology is part of our world, but that doesn’t mean parents and teachers can’t protect kids without being overly controlling.
Talking to kids about the content they post is critical. Teens tend to be more impulsive and may share excessive amounts of personal information. Setting boundaries, introducing outside activities, monitoring accounts, and encouraging face-to-face interaction are all great starting points. Creating an open, interactive, and tech-free environment at home can ensure teens participate in activities outside of social media.
Finally, if your child seems anxious, depressed, or withdrawn, review and reassess their phone use to see if it may be the cause. Ensure they are not being bullied online. Finally, consider taking your teen to a qualified counselor who can help treat the root cause of their depression or anxiety, particularly if it is linked to high social media use.