Social Media Use: Living In The Digital Era

Many young people today live in a technology-driven, “picture-perfect” society where teens are heavily influenced by what they see online. If unregulated or unmonitored, regular social media use can lead to a social media addiction. Teens may endlessly scroll their feeds regardless of any negative effects or consequences in their “real” lives.

Today’s teenagers have no experience or even reference of a life before smartphones, computers, and, ultimately, social media. In the 2020s, technological, or “virtual” communication is the standard. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and maintained by convenience, just about everything has become digital. Commonplace for both companies and individuals alike, social media has become a career for many; as such, roughly a quarter of the Gen Z population aspires to become an influencer.   

Eyes On Influencers

While life as an influencer can appear glamorous and alluring, it can also create tension—especially for young people who are particularly susceptible to issues like body image or peer pressure. Because of social media, teenagers today experience higher levels of cyberbullying and feelings of ostracization when comparing their lives with those they witness online.

Though social media has helped create community for many young people, it has also been shown to have an adverse impact on teens’ mental health, even causing depression and anxiety. Unlike past generations, some teenagers now tend to spend less time participating in healthy, practical activities and more time comparing themselves to people that they see on social media.

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As A Parent, What Can I Do?

While some say that social media misuse is unavoidable, there are tangible steps individuals can take to nurture a healthy relationship with social media within their children. Individual steps parents can take to help their teen with social media use include:

1. Knowing What Your Teens Are Watching

Parents may wonder what they can do to help their kids avoid the negative impact of social media. After all, the devices that give us access to these platforms are used in schools as part of education, as a primary mode of communication, and how most people now stay connected and up to date with loved ones.

Today’s most common social media platforms include TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Though each one differs in its makeup, layout, and content form, they all provide the perfect online space for influencers to market their product, service, or brand.

Pay attention to what apps your teen spends most of their time on. That way, you are equally as informed as your teenager. Follow the people or pages they follow to ensure that the content they’re consuming is healthy and appropriate. Some parents may even choose to utilize apps that can help them track their teens’ views and how long they are on social media. This varies from family to family but can be a helpful practice if your teen is falling behind in school or isolating themselves to spend more time online.

2. Educating Your Teens On Healthy Social Media Use

Educating teens about the negative impacts of social media use, general screen-time, and the importance of establishing parameters around its use is equally as important as your parental awareness of their habits. Talk with your teenager about the importance of exercise and “real world” recreational activities. Excessive screen-time, especially before bed, can negatively affect sleep; help your teen establish a nightly routine that promotes mindfulness and can help improve sleeping patterns.

Isolation can be the result of a depressed teenager who is withdrawn and lonely or one who is constantly entangled in their phone, unaware of society around them. It can be difficult to discern which came first and which influences the other: is social media use causing depressive tendencies, or is it an escape for an already struggling teenager?

Discuss the importance of sharing emotions and feelings among the members of your family so you have a general idea about your teen’s moods and experiences. Listen to your teen with an open mind and hold off on judgment. Let them know it is safe for them to be open with you.

Putting down a phone or computer can also help boost an individual’s mood. Limited screen-time will leave more time for healthy, productive activities like going outside, getting fresh air, and engaging with others: all activities that can help to combat the symptoms associated with depression.  

Remind your teenager that there is so much more to life than the rectangle screens in their pockets; encourage them to try new things. They may find something they value even more than the time spent on their phone.

3. Supporting And Encouraging Your Teen

Never assume a teen knows the negative impact social media can have on them. Discuss the dangers and detriments of unrealistic beauty standards shown across social media platforms. Share with them that all social platforms (and influencers) feature specifically curated content designed to elicit specific emotional responses. Remind them that life—both their own and the lives they see in their scrolling—is full of ups and downs, perfect moments, and difficult hardships.

As a parent, you may feel the need to create strict guidelines for social media use; however, the more supportive you can be, the less likely your teen will want to hide things from you. Encourage your teen to engage in activities that can strengthen and support their self-esteem. Suggest things like a gratitude journal or a daily self-love practice where they write or say one thing that they love about themselves. Help them explore different hobbies that occupy their idle time in healthier, more productive, and long-lasting ways.

Take a moment of introspection and make sure you are leading by example. Set your own phone down and close your computer when your teen shows an interest in engaging with you. Let them know that family comes before anything on your screen.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do as a parent is to remain open and supportive; encourage your teen to be unique. Teenagers who embrace their individuality are less likely to be influenced by others. Remind them that they are not alone and that if they need help beyond what you can offer, there are professionals who specialize in helping teens with these issues. 

When Social Media Use Becomes An Addiction

In today’s culture, especially with teenagers, regular social media use is to be expected. However, when normal use starts to interact with and affect other areas in life, a harmless habit becomes problematic. If you noticed your teen exhibiting the following, they could be experiencing a social media addiction: 

  • Their overall use has increased, particularly during other activities like spending time with family and friends or eating a meal.
  • They’ve become more reliant on various platforms to deal with their problems or anxieties.
  • They’re restless, antsy, or even angry whenever they’re not scrolling.
  • Their social media use has negatively impacted their behavior or performance in school.
  • They use social media or think about using social media whenever they have the chance.

Luckily, there are many resources that can help. 

Finding Treatment Resources For Social Media Misuse

As a parent, if you are concerned that your teen may have a social media addiction, multiple treatment options are available. Social media misuse can often signal that other mental health conditions may be present, so therapy may be a treatment route to consider. Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) can provide your child with healthy coping skills, and a licensed therapist can help your child work through the circumstances that may have led to their excessive social media use.

Additionally, if your teen is experiencing mental health conditions, support groups are available for young people. If you and a loved one are interested in starting therapy but have extenuating circumstances that make in-person therapy unfeasible, online therapy is a great option. Learn more information on your online therapy options for social media addiction today.

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Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW

Photo of Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW