Teenagers today spend massive amounts of time and energy on social media, browsing, swiping, liking, posting, commenting, hash-tagging, and direct messaging. The amount of social media teens today use is staggering, and many parents wonder about social media’s effects on teens. How does social media affect teenagers’ mental, emotional, social, and physical development?
We got some answers about social media’s effects on teens from Kristin Johnson, an award-winning writer, blogger, screenwriter, and the author of the book Ain’t U Got No Manners, a guide to online etiquette for teenagers. To write this book, Kristin spent years studying the effects of social media teens experience today. We asked Kristin, how does social media effect teenagers?
Here’s what she said…
Negative Social Media Effects on Teens
First, let’s talk about the bad stuff. When parents ask about social media’s effects on teens, this is usually what they want to know. How does social media affect teenagers negatively?
There was a study from the Child Mind Institute in the UK showing the use of Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram among teenagers all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness. Learn more about the link between social media and depression in this article from BetterHelp.
Kristin said that, in addition to the physical and emotional effects of social media teens experience, there are two main psychological effects:
Seeing Things They Aren’t Ready For
Teens might think they are adults. Certainly when it comes to social media teens think they know everything. But they aren’t necessarily fully prepared to evaluate everything they see online. That’s when social media’s effects on teens can be negative. It’s easy for teenagers to find people online who aren’t good models for them. How does social media affect teenagers when they come across something highly inappropriate? I’ve even seen dark and inappropriate things pop up with my little niece when she was searching for Elmo videos. If your teenager is spending significant time on social media its nearly impossible to prevent them from seeing something they shouldn’t.
Yes, there are filters and parental controls out there, and of course you are in charge of your family’s devices. But remember that teens today can see inappropriate content on TV, in the media, at school, at a friend’s house, and any number of other places. It’s just a fact of modern life. You’re not going to be able to be able to completely stop social media’s effects on teens. So what you can do is have a discussion about what kinds of social media teens are using (I’ll show you how to do that later in the article).
Neglecting In-Person Social Skills
Another fear with regard to social media’s effects on teens is the ability to socialize in-person and pick up on subtle social cues. Are teens failing to develop these skills because they do so much of their communication through a screen? Some teens today don’t even talk on the phone or check their voicemails at all, they just do everything through text messages and social media. How does social media affect teenagers teenagers’ real-world social skills?
It’s too early to know what social media’s effects on teens social skills will be. We simply don’t know all of the answers yet. A teenager might turn to texting and social media out of loneliness. But with social media teens might not satisfy their need for face to face contact. According to Lisa Damour, teenage girls often go to social media or texting to share their emotions rather than talking to someone and expressing their feelings in a constructive way.
Because of social media teens today don’t have to develop those important skills. One of social media’s effects on teens is that they don’t learn to communicate their needs and negotiate with other people. These are vital abilities that will allow them to navigate difficult interpersonal situations for the rest of their lives. The question for parents is how to balance those forces and help teens have healthy relationships with technology.
So how does social media affect teenagers’ social skills? It depends what kinds of social media teens use and how they use it. We need to be proactive in making sure our teenagers have opportunities to develop the critical skills of interpersonal communication.
How Does Social Media Affect Teenagers Positively?
It’s very easy to just say all technology is bad and when it comes to social media teens should be limited in their use of it. But I think social media’s effects on teens can be positive too. The overall relationship we each have with technology depends on how we are individually using it. And this starts with the parents: we need to figure out our own relationship with technology. It’s easy to get attached to your phone. It becomes part of us to the point where we sleep with it in the same room and check it first thing as soon as we wake up in the morning.
But I also know a lot of parents who love to have some space and let the kids decompress after school and check their phones after being around other people all day. It can be good for everyone to have a little quiet space. So social media’s effects on teens are very nuanced. You can’t really ban it completely. A lot of what you can do is try to give kids the tools to use technology effectively and try to create healthy relationships with social media teens can fall back on.
How does social media affect teenagers positively? Here are two big ways:
Opportunities for Creative Expression
One of the positive aspects of social media’s effects on teens is that it gives them space to discover what they’re interested in (which could change every three weeks, but still). Through being exposed to a large variety of different types of content on social media teens can start to learn they enjoy making videos about history, posting about their favorite books, or trading conspiracy theories with their friends. In turn, by seeing what kids are posting, parents can talk to them about their interests. You can engage your teen about what they made on a karaoke app and ask them what they liked and disliked about it. When you’re considering the question of how does social media affect teenagers positively, you have to look at it as a form of creative expression.
Social media can be a powerful tool for learning. Teens don’t need to be forced to sit down and study in order to learn something. Rather, with social media teens can experience what my mother used to call incidental learning. That’s when you pick things up and become aware of new things without even trying. One of social media’s effects on teens is that it allows them to do a lot of incidental learning. It keeps our brains fresh as parents too, learning what the kids are doing.
Developing Powerful Social Capital
Posting, liking, commenting, and hash-tagging might all seem like a waste of time to you, but that’s not necessarily true. You have no idea what the world is going to be like 20 years from now when your kid is in their middle of their life. Nobody does. It might turn out that the kids who didn’t build up their social media followers will be at a serious disadvantage later in life. They won’t have this rich documented history of their accomplishments and attitudes. They won’t have built up connections, friends, and followers, which might turn out to be the currency of the future. So it’s possible that by limiting your child’s access to social media to help them develop their personal relationships, you might actually be holding them back.
Yes, it’s true that personal relationships could matter more than ever in the future. But it’s also possible that social media could become even more important. By imposing your views on your teen and forcing them to do it your way, you’re saying you don’t trust them to decide what to focus on in their own life. With teenagers, it’s so important to communicate that you trust them to make their own decisions. When it comes to social media teens need at least some space to make their own mistakes.
Next, let’s look at both the positive and negative aspects of social media effects on teens’ bodies. How does social media affect teenagers physically?
Physical Effects of Social Media Teens Experience
Most people know today that using the phone before bed can mess up your sleep patterns because of the blue light and the electronic stimulation. But this is especially important for teenagers, who are more susceptible to these damaging effects of social media than adults are. It’s often very helpful to build in some time for everyone in your family to decompress before bed without devices. What are some other physical effects of social media teens experience today?
Another obvious example is that when you’re spending hours scrolling though Instagram you’re not outside running around. These devices are so addictive they encourage teens to be highly sedentary. The flip side of that is things like the Pokemon GO! craze a while ago where people were running around all over the place trying to “catch ’em all.” Also, I just saw an ad for a Harry Potter wizarding challenge, where you’re a wizard and you cast spells using the app. I’ve seen a lot of people getting into fitness videos during the Coronavirus situation and joining health groups on social media and I think that’s a really positive side of social media teens experience today.
Oh, also, every now and then some teenager with a selfie stick accidentally falls over a cliff. So death is also one of social media’s effects on teens. But that’s not really the technology’s fault, that’s human error.
So how does social media affect teenagers physically? In both positive and negative ways, depending on how they use it.
How to Talk about Social Media with a Teenager
What’s the best way to have a conversation with your teenager about the effects of social media? Start with something casual, like, “Hey, I’ve been wondering about something. How does social media affect teenagers? How is it affecting you? I wouldn’t feel like a good parent if I didn’t make sure you were considering both sides of social media’s effects on teens. We have to at least discuss it.”
Sometimes you might have to intervene and say to your teenager, “Okay, this is seems like it’s getting out of hand. What do you think?” Just try to have a conversation about it and also try to help them evaluate what they see online. Understand that you’re never going to know everything that they are doing online.
One tried-and-true strategy is to ask about what their friends are doing on social media. They may not tell you what they are doing themselves, but sometimes they will open up about their friends. Your teen might even volunteer something like, “You would not believe what AJ posted on Instagram last week!” That kind of comment invites conversation about social media’s effects on teens. You can follow up with questions, like, “What do you think about that? How does social media affect teenagers?” Questions are better than statements when you’re trying to open a teenager up. When it comes to social media teens can be hesitant to open up for fear of getting in trouble.
Also, it’s helpful for parents to at least know the basics of what they’re talking about. Snapchat, gaming, Instagram, and other types of social media teens use all have their own unique lingo. It goes a long way when you can use the right words and sound informed. It’s really hard to impart some wisdom to someone about a topic if you don’t fundamentally understand the thing you’re talking about. Your teen has to feel like you are somewhat social media savvy if you want them to listen to you. That’s just basic persuasion.
When it comes to the question of how does social media affect teenagers, the bottom line is that there are both positive and negative effects. Social media’s effects on teens depend on how your teen is using social media. Make your teen feel like you understand where they’re coming from. If they feel like you’re making an effort to meet them halfway, they’ll be more likely share with you. Treat your teen like their situation is unique and important and, above all, be someone who listens to them.