Social media is an integral part of life for today’s teens. Online interactions and social media platforms offer teens avenues for self-expression, connection, and information sharing. However, the extensive use of social media – especially video- and image-oriented platforms like TikTok and Instagram – may negatively affect teenage mental health. On these platforms, many teens constantly compare themselves to carefully curated, idealized images and lifestyles of peers. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Furthermore, cyberbullying, which frequently occurs on social media, can exacerbate these negative emotions, causing depression and isolation. To address these concerns, it is crucial for educators to foster open conversations with students and to educate themselves on teenagers and social media.
Teenagers and Social Media: A Pediatric Mental Health Specialist’s Perspective
In an article for Contemporary Pediatrics, pediatric nurse practitioner and mental health specialist Donna Hallas discusses teenagers and social media. Hallas explains that in primary care health visits for teenagers, practitioners emphasize assessing teens’ mental health. Teen mental health, Hallas writes, is often vulnerable due to the various challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-evolving “new normal.” However, another crucial factor impacting teenage mental health is their extensive use of social media, notably TikTok. Hallas mentions an article in which Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, discusses the potential dangers of TikTok. These dangers include videos that promote self-harm through over-the-counter medications. To address these issues, healthcare providers need to educate themselves about social media platforms popular with teens, as well as to understand the allure and risks associated with each platform. Hallas urges providers to engage in open conversations with teenagers about their social media experiences, ensuring their safety and well-being in the digital realm.
Protecting Teens from the Effects of Social Media
Schools also play an important role in preventing teens from being negatively affected by social media. Like healthcare providers, educators and administrators must also learn about popular social media platforms. Moreover, schools also need to create a safe space where students feel comfortable speaking honestly about their experiences on social media. Also, technology can help schools protect students’ mental health. Screen monitoring software like LearnSafe detects mentions of depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and disordered eating. In one case, LearnSafe’s Digital Safety Representatives noticed a student expressing intentions of self-harm. The Representative immediately notified the school safety team, who rushed to give this student the help they needed. In this way, LearnSafe helps schools protect their students’ mental health – and it can save lives.