Impacts of Social Media on Teen Health

by Polaris Teen Center | Jun 12, 2018 | Depression, Mental Health, Resources

teens and social media

Social media is a constant in life for most people, especially teenagers.  According to the research, 90% of teenagers are on at least one social media site.  Adolescents and teens today are the first generation to have grown up with social media, and do not know the world without it.

The average teen spends up to 9 hours per day on social media platforms.

In general, social media affects adolescent girls more than boys.  Girls tend to be socialized more to compare themselves to others (especially other girls), and thus develop their identities based on the “results” of the comparisons.  But no teenager is immune. Social media websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, can have tremendous impact on teenagers’ health and wellbeing. 

Negative Effects of Social Media on Teens

1. Depression and Anxiety

There is mounting evidence for the correlation between the amount of time an adolescent spends on social media and overall emotion regulation, mood, and behavior. Essentially, this evidence points to a strong link between social media use and mental health disorders (such as depression and anxiety) in young people.  Research on social media and mental health confirms young people who spend more than two hours per day on social media sites are far more likely to report negative mental health effects, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, than those who do not.  Yet this research is showing correlation, not causation, meaning the sites themselves may not actually be causing the mental health problems, but the affects of these sites are.

Over the past few years, social media use has increased significantly, which directly connects to the increase in the number of youth using smartphones.  Yet social media use has not been the only significant increase.  Unfortunately, suicide rates amongst adolescents and teens have also risen significantly (33% increase).  Again, while these studies may not show causation, there are some very strong correlations here.

2. Addiction

Social media can be extremely habit-forming, becoming almost like an addiction for some tens.  Some have even described social media as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.  Internet addiction is described as the uncontrollable use of the Internet, resulting in excessive time consumption and/or social dysfunction.  Also concerning about the potential to become addicted to the Internet is that frequent and consistent Internet use can alter brain chemistry.  Some studies show decreased gray matter and neurotransmitter changes in teenagers who are “excessive users.”

3. Sleep Deprivation

Being an active social media user can greatly impact a teenagers regular sleep cycle.  Up to 42% of teens look at social media of some sort before going to bed. Teenagers often stay up late using social media, or have interrupted sleep due to social media notifications popping up on their phone.  Studies show electronic screens emit a light that disrupts circadian rhythms by delaying the body’s release of melatonin.

The sleep deprivation associated with social media has other serious ramifications.  Sleep deprivation in teens can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, obesity, and poor school performance. 

4. Low self-esteem

In general, adolescents and teenagers make up the population most prone to struggling with low self-esteem.  Yet, with the advent and immense popularity of social media websites, low self-esteem is plaguing more teens than ever before.  Social media can take a toll on a teenagers confidence and self-worth in different ways.

  • Body image – Being on social media means potentially being exposed to hundreds of images of other people (friends, peers, celebrities, etc.) per day. And when people post images, they tend to post the very best, or the “ideal” version of themselves.  This is especially true when celebrities post, given the immense amount of retouching that is done to those photos.  Unfortunately, this sets forth an unattainable, unrealistic beauty and/or body standard.  Many, many teens then compare themselves to what they see on social media, determine they do not meet those standards, and thus, feel bad about themselves.  Social media can contribute to low self-esteem in various ways.

for example, some studies show that when teenage girls view Facebook, even just for a short time, are more concerned about their body shape and size than non-users.

  • Cyberbullying – bullying of any kind, including cyberbullying, during the adolescent and teenage years is a major risk factor for several issues including educational performance, social relationships, and mental health. Unfortunately, the effects of these issues can have enduring consequences that extend into adulthood.

According to research, nearly one-third of teens have experienced cyberbullying.  Cyberbullying is defined as intentional, repetitive, and aggressive acts aimed at hurting another person emotionally.  Cyberbullying is carried out through electronic media and involves an imbalance of power.  Cyberbullying has the potential to increase a teen’s likelihood of developing depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.  Cyberbullying can also cause physical health effects, such as stomachaches, headaches, muscle tension, bed-wetting, and poor appetite.  Adolescents and teens who are the victims of cyberbullying are also at risk of poor school performance.

Obviously, cyberbullying has increased in prevalence as technology and social media continue to expand and evolve.  But what makes cyberbullying so enticing to some is the anonymity with which it can be done.  Not only do young people feel more confident sending hurtful messages through text rather than face-to-face, but also because they can be sent anonymously.  Many teens today create fake or false social media accounts solely to send hateful messages.

5. Interpersonal Relationships

Social media could potentially affect any user’s interpersonal relationships.  Yet for adolescents and teenagers (who are still learning how to effectively communicate and establish connections with others), social media almost always jeopardizes the way they interact and form relationships.  By spending much time on social media, teens are missing out on very critical social skills and nonverbal social cues. Body language, facial expressions, and tone are all essential social cues, and unfortunately, are things that do not translate over social media or texting platforms.  Face-to-face conversations have become increasingly uncomfortable for teens today, as so many are much more accustomed to communicating via social media and Internet chat sites.

Positive Effects and Social Media

While much research supports the growing discussion around the negative effects of social media and teen health, there are studies that suggest an opposing opinion.  Some view social media as a tool that can benefit teenagers in a variety of ways.

  • Relationships – although social media sites tend to affect a teenager’s ability to form “real-life” relationships, they also contribute positively in some way. Social media gives teens access to people from across the world, and provides a new way to communicate and make and maintain friendships.
  • More informed – social media sites are not only a platform for posting comments and photos, but also providing local, national, and international news. Thus, social media has the potential to make young people more informed.
  • Social awareness and empathy – news stories are frequently posted on social media showing the adversities and hardships of others. In this way, social media encourages today’s teenagers to be more aware, and awareness can inspire empathy.

Keeping Your Teen Safe on Social Media

  • Engage with your teens online world – more than 60% of parents never monitor their teens social media platforms. But to help keep your child safe, it is important to stay informed.  Ask your teen to show you his or her social media sites; look at what they are posting.
  • Make your teen the “expert” – many parents feel they cannot “keep up” with the ever-emerging social media sites. Ask your teen to teach you more about social media.  Often, making your child the “expert,” can help break down any barriers previously preventing him or her from talking to you about social media.  Plus, you may find you learn a lot about his or her social media use.
  • Encourage face-to-face interactions – not only is it vital to teach your teenager what social media lacks in terms of communication and connecting to others, but also to encourage them to nurture their relationships outside of the digital world.  It is essential for young people to “practice” relating to others in real-time, to help them avoid maturing into adults who are fearful and anxious about face-to-face interactions.

Educate – educate your teenager about his or her “digital footprint” and staying safe on social media.  Let him or her know that whenever they post on social media, their actions are visible for the world to see.


Polaris Teen Center | Website | + posts

Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).