Social Media, Smartphones, and Teen Mental Health

Posted by on May 12, 2018 in Blog From The Experts | 0 comments

It’s probably a surprise when you don’t see the teenagers in your life entertaining themselves with a smartphone, tablet, computer, or video game. Often they’re texting sharing, trolling, and scrolling on social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. You might expect that they spend time using these apps because it makes them happy, but most data suggests it does not.


The Monitoring the Future Survey, funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, analyzed teenagers from 8th to 12th grades, starting back as early as 1975. The survey asked teens how happy they were and how much of their leisure time they spent on different activities, including non-screen activities and, in recent years, screen activities (social media, browsing the web). The results could not be clearer: teens who spent more time than average on screen activities were more likely to be unhappy. Teens who spent more time than average on non-screen activities were more likely to be happy. There was not a single exception. All screen activities were linked to more unhappiness, and all non-screen activities linked to more happiness. Other current research is also finding more negative effects of social media and screen time than positive.


So why can’t they put that phone down? Many apps and social media platforms are carefully designed to capture the brain’s pleasure centers, (the “like-feedback loop”) and young people with developing brains have less ability to resist. Adults and teens alike are easily sucked into the mindset that likes, loves, comments, and followers are a barometer for popularity and self-worth. The “fear of missing out” on what friends are doing or liking online can also cause overwhelming pressure to stay connected.


It’s also challenging for teens to recognize that what they see on social media is often the rosiest possible picture of their peers’ lives. As adults, we cab all relate to going on Facebook and seeing other traveling, smiling with their spouse, showing their best selves, while leaving out the inevitable low points of real life. Now put yourself in the mindset of a teenager.


What Can Parents Do?

  • Be involved in what apps are on your teen’s phone, read messages, follow them and their friends on social media.
  • Discuss the feelings you have at the times when on Facebook.
  • Have phone-free days or hours.
  • Encourage active online presence (looking up info, learning) not passive such as gaming or social media.
  • Be more active! Extracurriculars, outdoor activities, family activities (game night).
  • Model good smartphone behavior (put your phone away during dinner).
  • No phones after 9 pm (get an alarm clock instead of a phone alarm).
  • Limit passive screen time to 1.5 hours a day or less.



Written by Lisa M. Borchert-Hrivnak, M.A.Ed., LPCC, Owner of Avenues of Counseling and Mediation, LLC

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