Almost everyone is on social media. Trends over time show that the use of social networking sites such as Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook has continued to increase (Turner et al., 2021). However, the reasons for this increased use vary by individuals—especially with regard to demographics. For millennials and older generations, the use of social media may be primarily for staying connected with family and updated on current events. On the other hand, teens may use these platforms for different reasons. For example, the Pew Research Center notes about 46 percent of teens say they use social media for socializing and staying connected. Additionally, approximately 68 percent of teens say that social media helps them feel like they have people that can support them through tough times, with only 9 percent reporting that social media has had a negative impact on them (Pew Research Center, 2022). Of those who report negative effects, 16 percent of Black teens, 22 percent of White teens, and 28 percent of Hispanic teens endorsed feeling worse about their own life.
What the Research Says About Social Media Use
A recent meta-analysis (Huang, 2022) found that problematic social media use was associated with distress (e.g., depression and loneliness). However, the majority of the studies currently focus on Facebook. One study that explicitly examined body image concerns found that females (84 percent) were more likely than males (16 percent) to report social media-related body dissatisfaction (Charmaraman et al., 2021). Additionally, teens in that study who endorsed body dissatisfaction endorsed checking their social media more often, experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and spent most of their free time alone.
It is clear that we need to better understand the nuances of social media use and how it impacts teens. The way that social media impacts teens’ mental health varies from person to person. One study noted that after passive social media use (i.e., scrolling your friends' content without direct exchanges) 46 percent reported feeling better, 10 percent reported feeling worse, and 44 percent reported not feeling better or worse (Beyens et al., 2020). According to the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of teens believe that social media has neither positive nor negative effects on them, while 32 percent say that social media is mostly positive. Clearly, the data is mixed and individual differences exist in how teens are impacted by social media use.
Tips for Parents on Minimizing Problematic Social Media Use for Teens
Given what we know about the potential impacts of social media use and how much screen time contributes to health and mental health outcomes, it is important for parents to help their teens practice digital wellness. While parents may differ on how much or little they control their teens' access to social media, here are a few effective strategies to help minimize risks.
Note: This blog was originally written by Dr. Erlanger Turner for Psychology Today.
The doors of communication are open! If not, here are some reasons why communication with teens is so important.
As a psychologist, I’ve often worked with families and some parents have expressed how difficult it is to get their teenager to talk with them. Sometimes parents express they get short answers to simple questions such as “how was school”. Often teens may reply “good”. Of course as a parent that is not sufficient. In today’s world when more kids are struggling with mental health challenges it is even unnerving when teens don’t want to open up.
The reality is that kids learn from a very young age if their parents are open to talking with them about certain topics or if they are too busy to have a minute to spend time talking with them. Research has shown that open parent-child communication is extremely important. For example, studies show that when parents engage in open and positive communication it can be a protective factor that reduces risk of psychological and behavior problems. Numerous psychological studies have found that the quantity and quality of communication between a parent and their child reduces risk of engaging in substance use or sexual behavior, low self-esteem, and poor academic achievement.
Another consideration is how parents communicate with their daughters compared to sons. In a study published in the International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, the authors noted that female adolescents perceived their communication with both mothers and fathers to be more positive and open. Additionally, the study findings reported that open communication with parents protected children from experiencing school adjustment problems, low self-esteem, depression and substance use.
Tips for Improving Communication
Below are some suggestions on how to communicate with teens based on an article published by the Child Mind Institute:
Listen. If you are curious about what’s going on in your teen’s life, asking direct questions might not be as effective as simply sitting back and listening. Kids are more likely to be open with their parents if they don’t feel pressured to share information. Remember even an offhand comment about something that happened during the day is their way of reaching out, and you’re likely to hear more if you stay open and interested — but not prying.
Validate their feelings. It is often our tendency to try to solve problems for our kids, or downplay their disappointments. But saying something like “She wasn’t right for you anyway” after a romantic disappointment can feel dismissive. Instead, show kids that you understand and empathize by reflecting the comment back: “Wow, that does sound difficult.”
Don't be a dictator. You still get to set the rules, but be ready to explain them. While pushing the boundaries is natural for teenagers, hearing your thoughtful explanation about why parties on school nights aren’t allowed will make the rule seem more reasonable.
Give praise. Parents tend to praise children more when they are younger, but adolescents need the self-esteem boost just as much. Teenagers might act like they’re too cool to care about what their parents think, but the truth is they still want your approval. Also looking for opportunities to be positive and encouraging is good for the relationship, especially when it is feeling strained.
Control your emotions. It’s easy for your temper to flare when your teen is being rude, but don't respond in kind. Remember that you’re the adult and he is less able to control his emotions or think logically when he’s upset. Count to ten or take some deep breaths before responding. If you’re both too upset to talk, hit pause until you’ve had a chance to calm down.
Be observant. It’s normal for kids to go through some changes as they mature, but pay attention if you notice changes to their mood, behavior, energy level, or appetite. Likewise, take note if they stop wanting to do things that used to make them happy, or if you notice your child isolating themselves. If you see a change in your teen’s daily ability to function, ask them about it and be supportive (without being judgmental). They may need your help and it could be a sign they need to talk to a mental health professional.
Visit the Therapy for Black Kids website for possible referral sources.
Bireda, A. D., & Pillay, J. (2018). Perceived parent–child communication and well-being among Ethiopian adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 23(1), 109-117.
This blog is maintained by Therapy for Black Kids.