Social Media Makes Teens Happier?

Hopefully that title caught your attention.  It can’t be true, can it?  Doesn’t Social Media make teens more anxious?  I thought a constant compulsive need for connectivity leads to sleep deprivation? Aren’t all the kids in the world suffering from cyberbullying?

This week I’ve read two contradicting articles online that make me question everything I think I know about social media and the psychological well being of our teenage generation.  Kind of.

2018_cs_socialmediasociallife_infographicimage_1 (1)Common Sense Media released an infographic titled “Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences.”  (September 10, 2018)

Click the picture to the right to see the entire image and be sure to look very closely at the change in percentages over the last six years.

The one fact that stands out to me is that since 2012 the percentage of kids who say social media “distracts them from paying attention to the people they’re with” has increased from 44% to 54%.  Both of those percentages seem smaller than I would have anticipated.  To me it seems like 100% of the people I know, teens and adults, are distracted by social media when I’m thinking they should be paying attention to me!

Here’s another shocking statistic – 1 in 5 teen drivers admit to checking social media notifications… while driving!  Come on.  Texting and driving is the number one killer of teenagers in our country today, and now they’re checking social media while behind the wheel?

And finally, the big truth – teens are who already susceptible to low social-emotional behaviors are experiencing more of the negative effects of social media than kids with high social-emotional well-being.  And that fact solidifies my theory – social media is a mental health magnifying glass.  Hold it over a happy person, they see and post happy things.  Hold it over a teenager struggling with mental health issues, you have a child who is more likely to commit an act of self-harm.  Unhappy teenagers who use social media are more likely to feel lonely, depressed, and have a lower sense of self-esteem.

The percentages of teenagers who reported negative effects of social media far outweigh those who report positive benefits – four to to seven fold.  Especially when it comes to cyberbullying.

Prior to reading the article I found contradictory evidence about teen use of social media a 2016 Journal of Adolescence article #sleepyteens  Click the title to download a PDF Version from ScienceDirect

There are no surprises here – 467 Scottish adolescents confirmed that there is a link between social media and wellbeing.  The interesting aspect of the research here, which differs from the survey done this summer by CommonSenseMedia, is the effect on teens’ well-being depending on the time of day in which the online activity occurred.  Night time use drastically increased vulnerability to anxiety, depression, and negative self-esteem.

Could this be because of the sleep deprivation incurred from late night social media use?  More research certainly needs to be done to determine if this is causation or correlation.  Does Social Media use “CAUSE” mental health issues?  Or, are teenagers predisposed to mental health issues simply experiencing increased negative effects from social media triggers?  Either way there is definitive evidence for one simple solution –

Keep internet connected devices out of your child’s room after bed time.  It doesn’t matter if their four years old, fourteen, or forty four.  Screens don’t belong in the bedroom.

Happy teenagers may cite benefits of social media use, but remember this – teenagers aren’t always happy.  In fact, it’s rare.  The hurricane of hormones swirling around in their still developing frontal lobes change in extremes that parents can never prepare for.  Allowing your “happy teen” to fall into the negative effects of social media isn’t worth the risk when the only thing to gain are a few likes on Instagram or a longer Snapchat streak.

Remember the “S” in R.E.S.T.O.R.E. – set limits.


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