The adolescent stage of development can be defined by change or transformation. As early as age 11, parents may start to notice physical, developmental, emotional, and social changes in their pre-teen. Emotional ups and downs, a push for independence, new friend groups, and academic pressures are common experiences among adolescents. In today’s technological world, an adolescents’ perpetual access to social media impacts their lives in positive and negative ways, and research is proceeding to determine how youth are being impacted.
In the world of research, studying the effects of social media use on adolescents is relatively new. Brain development, mental health concerns, social issues, and other factors are areas of interest for future research.
One possible benefit of social media is connecting people to each other. For young people, friends and feeling they fit in with others of a similar age and interests are high priorities, and social media allows people to connect any time anywhere. Teens who may struggle in face-to-face situations and interactions, or who are from a marginalized group, may find comfort in communicating through social media outlets. Adolescents can enjoy sharing a common hobby or special ability with a specialized social media group.
Research also shows concerning effects of social media use on young people. The amount of time adolescents spend on social media is something parents should monitor. The act of sitting and scrolling through media can significantly impact the amount of physical activity or face-to-face conversation in which a teen engages. In addition, the content young people are viewing on social media (e.g., violence, cyberbullying) and how it is internalized (e.g., treatment of others, self-worth) can be troublesome.
There are times in face-to-face interactions when adolescents often find it difficult to manage rejection or negative interactions. This same phenomenon happens with social media and can create distress for young people. Youth may experience negative interactions on social media, for example a post may not be “liked” enough, there may be a lapse in response times, or they may be involved in sexting or cyberbullying. These negative interactions can impact adolescent mental health. Loss of sleep, feelings of hopelessness, negative thoughts, and friendship challenges are some of the negative outcomes associated with youth social media use.
Parents and caregivers are role models for social media use and are in a position to set rules and guidelines to help support young people as they navigate the world of social media. Review the resources below for more information and guidance about how to have conversations with your teens about social media use. Start the conversation today; it’s an important one!