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Social Media and Teen Mental Health

“I feel like I’m not attractive…”
“I don’t want to go to school…”
“I’m not good enough…”
“Why was I left out?”

These are just a few things we might hear expressed today by teenagers in Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook, Plainfield and Downers Grove IL. Humans are complex beings with a vast inner network of thoughts and sensibilities. Among those is the realization that life carries disappointment and uncertainty in addition to offering joy and hope.

Today, that condition exists among exponential advances in how we access, receive and interpret information. In particular, Generation Z (born 1997–2012) was the first to enter a world of rapid consumer technology already featuring cell phones, GPS and the web. Their young, impressionable minds also stood at the dawn of the digital Big Bang that created a new universe of social media as well as phones with much greater power.

Most great human leaps forward tend to come with at least a strained calf or stubbed toe. What teens can now do to reach other people is also what can often sap their spirit, control their lives and enclose them in increasing social isolation.

Citing a 2022 article in The Washington Post, Prevent Child Abuse Vermont points out that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of the increasing mental health crisis among adolescents. The CDC’s survey of 7,700 teens during the first six months of 2021 – the heart of the first full pandemic school year – cited that more than 40% of teens felt “persistently sad or hopeless.” One in five had thought about suicide.

While factors behind emotional struggles can differ – job loss, divorce, violence, substance abuse, biology – social media and excessive phone usage have been consistent variables in challenges to teen mental health.

Use and Effects of Social Media Among Teens

The teen years are about forming an identity, learning to socialize and developing interpersonal relations. Social media lets young people instantly communicate with others whether they are next door or miles away. Entertainment and self-expression are other built-in benefits.

For these same reasons, more teens are spending more time on their phones and on social media platforms and apps. According to an article by Newport Academy,

84% of teens use social media and 62% use it daily

Girls (68%) are more likely than boys (57%) to use social media every day

In 2021, a survey by Common Sense Media found that average daily screen use among tweens (8 to 12 years old) had risen to more than 5.5 hours per day. Teens (13 to 18) were on screens over 8.5 hours per day. These numbers represented a 17% increase between 2019 and 2021.

In spite of that rampant use, satisfaction is falling: 33% of teens said they enjoy social media “a lot” compared with 40% in 2019. Overrun by images, information and stimulation, they are goldfish relocated from their bowls to an ocean. They also swim through a life stage with typically greater impulsivity and less self-regulation. They may want to pause to rest but often find they cannot.

This uneven investment of focus and time can lead to mental-health hazards such as:

low self-esteem and poor body image. Many younger girls in particular speak of hurtful comments on social media about what they wear and how they look, as well as judgments of their body type. They further measure themselves according to online comparisons of beauty and appeal.

perceived approval. Some young people can become dependent on the number of “likes” they receive for a social-media post, as well as to whether they are followed back by someone they follow. Conversely, social media also simplifies the ability to organize and spread a bullying campaign whether conducted by one person or many.

depression and anxiety. Researchers are still studying the direct link between social-media use and depression. Findings do tend to agree that excessive phone usage can accelerate existing depression. Similarly, the goal to appear happy, attractive and accepted on social media often motivates anxiety-inducing perfectionism.

sleep deprivation. Studies continue to show a relation between excessive phone usage and insomnia. Because sleep is important to the body’s production and regulation of serotonin, sleep deprivation can cause symptoms such as depression, anxiety, fatigue and a compromised immune system.

Just as excessive phone usage can lead to sleep deprivation, it can create stimulation patterns that develop into dopamine-fueled addiction. Receiving attention and affirmation on social media activates the same brain circuits that respond to winning a jackpot and eating chocolate truffles. Teens can become dependent on this gratification at the same time their threshold for achieving it rises.

As dire as these conditions might sound, both they and their causes can be alleviated when parents recognize a problem and engage their teen to help resolve it.

How to Help Teens Manage the Effects of Social Media

Parents in Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook, Plainfield and Downers Grove IL should take note if their teen is:

on social media and other apps for many hours each day

overly concerned with getting back on their phone when away from it

understating or lying about their time on social media

showing increasing symptoms of a mental-health problem in tandem with constant social-media use

Monitoring a teen’s phone time can influence positive mental health. Parents can encourage healthy, responsible social-media use and counter its negative effects by:

openly discussing social media with the teen and their feelings related to its use

establishing and enforcing screen-free zones, such as at the dinner table, in bedrooms at bedtime and during visitation with family and friends

walking the talk by unplugging their own phones and participating in phone-free activities

checking in on the teen’s social-media accounts; if the teen is younger, assist in setting up a social-media profile and including all available privacy restrictions; if the teen is older, know the social media sites and apps they are on, discuss what is proper to post and establish guidelines for use

considering vacations from social media; a 2022 study found that taking just a week off from social technology increased feelings of well-being while reducing depression and anxiety symptoms

Above all, studies show that teens who feel connected to others face-to-face in and outside of school report much lower rates of poor mental health. The same holds true for teens who feel a positive bond with family members and neighborhood friends.

This only reinforces what is and will always be true about people: We were built for interpersonal relations with those we care about and who care about us. The extra hours spent trying to fulfill that need on social media simply can’t replace words and smiles shared with someone special who is present.

Professional Support for Teens: Contact Us Today

Eunoia Counseling specializes in counseling and therapy for teen mental health. If you have questions or concerns about the effects of social media on your teen, we can help guide you and your teen back to a place of comfort and peace. To learn more about our support for Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook, Plainfield and Downers Grove IL, contact us at (630) 340-8747 or