How Social Media Affects Teens

Have you ever considered how social media affects teens? How many of us have social media accounts? Or how many of our children do? 

Well, more than half of the world now uses social media. 45% of 13–17-year-olds are online constantly. While 97% are using social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, according to a survey taken by Pew Research Center


We can recall all those years back when social media first came about and we were all so captivated. Obsessed with this idea of staying connected with everyone, with anyone. Facebook gave us the ability to reconnect with old friends and family we had lost touch with. It allowed us to make new friends in new ways we had not experienced.  

In 2012, Instagram came to life and the distance shrunk even more. Just snap a pic of the food in front of you, the place you are at, or the people you are with. We no longer had to share a paragraph or a life story worth of content, simply every subtle move.  

Social media was designed to bridge the gap between the socially awkward yet socially compelled. Many of us utilize the platforms as a form of entertainment and self-expression. It is a way to stay current with news and events, and allows for connections between individuals who otherwise would have never been able to get in touch. This concept of what it should be sounds so positive and powerful. However, is it actually doing more harm than good? Do we really understand how social media affects teens mental health? 


Much of today’s adolescent population have grown up with smart phones, access to internet, and personal social media accounts. By 2015, 92% of teens and young adults owned a smartphone. Feelings of depression increased as smartphone use increased. A 2017 study of 8th to 12th graders found high levels of depressive symptoms increased by 33% between 2010-2015.  

The suicide rate for girls alone in this age group increased by 65%.  

But it’s only getting worse… Child suicide rates increased by up to 150%, and self-harm by girls ages 10 to 14 nearly tripled. These patterns point to social media. 


It is our obligation as parents and active members of our community to monitor our youth. To ensure they have received proper education on the reality of how detrimental their actions can be in their future. With easy access at the touch of their fingertips, we must do our best to ensure their safety. Realistically, we cannot be present for their every move. However, it is still our responsibility to help make them aware of the outcomes of their actions. 

As more statistics come to light regarding social media’s negative impact on our teen’s mental health, additional research is being done. Introducing tools that will assist us in the educational process. In 2020, Netflix released its much anticipated documentary, The Social Dilemma. The documentary examines how social media’s design nurtures addiction to maximize profit. Also, its ability to manipulate people’s views, emotions, and behavior and spread conspiracy theories and disinformation. 

One key takeaway I note from the film, the government is doing little to regulate any of the harmful tactics these companies are known to use. Therefore once again emphasizing our duty to educate our children on the permanent impacts posting on social media can have.  


Sharing life-altering content extends beyond what we post on social media. Sending photos or strongly worded messages to another person greatly runs the risk of being broadcast across multiple platforms. Younger generations are growing up with the internet in their pockets. Ease of access has diminished the gravity in which it can be utilized, and unfortunately many of us have chosen to use it for bad. Nevertheless, regardless of the intention, sharing sensitive information, photos, or secrets, is permanent and cannot be taken back. Distasteful content can potentially harm any of our future careers. Sometimes we do not realize the consequences of our actions right away, which is why it is so important to Stop Before You Share.  


If I haven’t scared you enough into believing the internet is a dangerous place, this section might just wrap that up.  

Adolescents who use social media from a very young age are also more in danger of developing disorders such as anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia and other addictive behaviors. While our brains are at their second most critical stage of development, we are also absorbing repetitive behaviors such as instant gratification and social awkwardness. Simultaneously, “Social media is designed to hook our brains… it drive surges of dopamine to the brain to keep consumers coming back over and over again. The shares, likes and comments on these platforms trigger the brain’s reward center, resulting in a high similar to the one people feel when gambling or using drugs.” states Dr. Nancy Deangelis, Director of Behavioral Health. Professionals say three hours or more of screen time can increase the likelihood of future addictive behaviors. 


Another reason how social media affects teens mental health is correlated to many of us feeling overwhelmed and believing we are under performing because of the constant comparisons to what others are putting out on their platform accounts. But many publicize the moments in their lives that give the perception of success. In truth, their lives are actually very similar to ours; however, these misconceptions begin to make us feel that our value has diminished because we have not yet arrived at the point we believe our peers to be at.  


Here are some ideas for teens that can help reduce screen time: 

  • Model behavior – Reduce your screen time as a parent and spend quality time. 
  • Restrict phone – Limitations can be helpful during dinner time, bed time, and study time.  
  • Go Outside – Swap out an hour on the phone for an hour outside (Yard, Parks, Cardinal Greenway) 
  • Stay busy – Do an activity that uplifts your mood (reading, exercising, card/board games) 
  • Get involved – Visit your favorite local business (Blast from the Past, Comic Relief, Roscoe’s) 


Now that you know how social media affects teens mental health, join us in our fight for the health, education and financial stability of everyone in Wayne and Union counties by donating today.  

Get to know more about our program partners working in our four focus areas: childhood success, youth success, economic mobility, and access to health. Read more about their stories here, or sign up for our newsletter to learn more about what we do at United Way of Whitewater Valley.