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Are Instagram and Other Social Media Bad for Your Teen’s Mental Health?

Teens spend as much as nine hours per day on social media, according to a recent study by Common Sense Media. That mind-boggling statistic means that when they’re not in school or sleeping, teens are glued to their phones, where they interact with friends and the rest of the world through Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and a variety of other channels.

But is it good for them?

While it’s a way to connect with friends and information, which can be positive, the "always-on" aspect of social media can be exhausting. It can take a toll on a teen’s mental health.

The UK’s Royal Society for Public Health surveyed 1,500 teens and young adults about their social media habits. They found that Instagram and other social networks are associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and a “fear of missing out (FOMO).” They can also foster a negative body image and poor sleep habits.

“As this study and others have suggested, the more social media young adults consume, the more likely they are to report depression or anxiety,” said Stefanie Lopacinski, Ed.D, LCSW, a behavioral health consultant at Abington-Jefferson Health. “It becomes a job to check, monitor and respond to social media requests and demands from multiple sites. It's too much.”

What You See Is Not What You Get

Another dangerous aspect of social media is that it’s easy for teens to compare themselves to others. With the click of a mouse or swipe of the screen, they have access to a whole world of friends and strangers alike. However, what they see is frequently not a reflection of real life.

“Physical comparison is a big issue with social media,” said Lopacinski. “We take everything on social media at face value. However, selfies manipulated with filters and editing programs are the norm now.”

This constant comparison to unrealistic ideals can result in low self-esteem, self-doubt, poor body image and fear of missing out. Girls and boys alike struggle to keep up with their peers.

“There is a ton of pressure to perfect your selfie pose and stay in shape,” said Lopacinski. “Teens spend a lot of time trying to live up to these unrealistic expectations and falsified pictures.”

A Simple Solution That Requires Work and Self-Discipline

Teens aren’t likely to give up social media, but there are healthier ways to use it. Lopacinski and other mental health professionals advocate for tactics like heavy-usage warnings that pop up when someone is on a social network excessively, as well as warnings about digitally manipulated images.

Teens themselves can take some steps to protect themselves, especially if they are experiencing pressure or increased feelings of depression and anxiety associated with social media.

Lopacinski suggests ideas such as:

  • Mindful Media: Being aware of the effects of social media. It’s important to ask questions like: "Are my shoulders raised and tight?" "Is my jaw clenched?" "Am I smiling or laughing and genuinely happy while online?" "What am I thinking?" "Am I comparing myself to this person?" "Does this feel good?" "Is this helpful?" "Is this a good use of my time?"
  • Facebook Friday: A reminder to use social media once a week for those who want to give up daily usage. This strategy works equally well with other social networks (e.g., “Snapchat Saturday” or “Twitter Tuesday.”)
  • Facebook Fifteen: Limiting usage to 15 minutes for any social network.
  • Nothing but Notifications: Logging in and checking only when you receive a notification, which limits your interaction to close contacts and eliminates mindless scrolling.

“Teens can also make it a point to use social media in a positive way,” said Lopacinski. “They can focus on using social media to get involved with organizations and beliefs they support.”

If you or a teen in your life are experiencing the negative effects of social media, follow these tips. If you need help with a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor today.

For a referral to an Abington - Jefferson Health physician, please call 215-481-MEDI (6334) or search our online directory.

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