Social media refers to digital media platforms, such as websites or smartphone apps, that enable users to network with other users and create and share content.
The lives of children and teens are heavily enmeshed in social media. Children as young as 6 years old are active on social networking sites, and older children and teens rely heavily on these platforms in order to communicate, interact, and circulate information.
Social media is known to exacerbate teenagers’ body image issues, cause sleep deprivation, and intensify bullying, but there is now a considerable amount of research to suggest that social media may also be to blame for increasing levels of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in teens.
So, is social media to blame for the fact that teen anxiety and depression has risen exponentially in recent years? Is Instagram the reason why 9 out of 10 girls are unhappy with the way they look, and the rates of teenage eating disorders have doubled in the past 7 years?
When 7 out of every 10 school-aged children state that they would gladly get rid of their social networking account if not for the fear that they would be left out of the loop, it becomes our responsibility as caregivers to critically analyse the role that it is playing in their lives.
Depression & Anxiety
“Along with this huge growth in technology, we’ve also seen another acceleration: a rise in mental health problems. Today’s youth are said to be the most stressed out generation. Teen anxiety is at an 80 year high. Teenagers are in a depression epidemic.” – Poppy Jamie
Social media is linked with increased rates of teen anxiety, depression, and poor sleep.
How Is Social Media To Blame?
Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to anxiety and depression because they’re subject to the following risk factors:
- They’re hugely impacted by what others think of them
- They’re experimenting with the independence of adulthood while still carrying the vulnerabilities of a child
- Their bodies are changing rapidly
- They’re having to juggle new responsibilities and meet new social expectations
- Melatonin (the chemical in the brain which causes sleepiness) is released 2 hours later in the teenage brain than in the adult brain, meaning their sleep cycles become hugely disrupted
- Their academic workload is becoming harder and the pressure to do well can be overwhelming
- They’re figuring out who they are
- Older teens are navigating their own sexualities for the first time, while also being sexualised by others for the first time
According to the psychologist, Karen Young in her article Depression in Teens The Warning Signs and How to Help Them Through: ‘One of the things that can make depression so difficult to recognise is that the symptoms can be things we all struggle with from time to time – sadness, hopelessness, lethargy, lack of engagement. When these very normal human experiences happen in a combination, duration or intensity that start to interfere with day-to-day life (school, relationships), it’s possible that depression might be waving a heavy hand over your teen.’
Add to that the fact that teenagers are notorious for oversleeping, fretting over friendships, and having constant mood swings, and it’s easy to see why parents may at times struggle to see the signs that their teenager is suffering from depression or anxiety.
Tips For Parents
Here are some ways in which parents can support their adolescent children through depression and anxiety:
Physical activity and health: Regular exercise and a healthy diet can have beneficial effects for people suffering from mental health issues, so try to encourage your teen to participate in regular physical activities and ensure that they have a balanced diet.
Stop and listen: When someone is upset or distressed, it’s a natural impulse to ask them “what’s wrong”. With anxiety and depression, there isn’t necessarily going to be a reason behind these feelings, which is often what makes it seem so much harder to overcome. Simply allow your teenager to talk about how they’re feeling rather than expecting them to know why they’re feeling that way.
Be present: Teenagers can be deceptively mature and wise beyond their years, but they still want and need mentorship.
Help them to know their triggers and develop coping mechanisms: Not everything about anxiety and depression is clear-cut, but people who suffer from these mental health conditions will sometimes have specific triggers. If possible, try and help your child to recognise the things that make them feel panicked or upset, then work on establishing a series of small steps that they can take to help them cope (e.g. taking a deep breath, or writing in a diary).
Parental support can make a huge difference, but it’s sometimes necessary to seek professional help as well. You may want to visit the school guidance counsellor or schedule an appointment with your child’s GP.
To find help and learn more about adolescent mental health, you can also visit: