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How does social media affect teens?

Humans are social animals. We thrive on social connection and get sick when we don’t have it. Thanks to so many people having a smartphone, we are now more connected than we ever have been in history, but psychologist Sherry Turkle says that we feel more alone than ever.

Teens and young adults carefully craft and continuously maintain social media personae. Turkle says in her TED talk that we expect more from our technology and less from each other.

As we attempt to feel less lonely by connecting through our phones, we lose the ability to be alone. Turkle argues that if we cannot be alone, we will continue to be lonely no matter how connected we are.

Pros and Cons of Social Media for Teens

The digital social life of teens can be seen as good or bad. On the one hand, it provides support, affirmation, and entertainment at any time, even when it isn’t feasible to be with friends.

Also, getting likes on tweets and posts activates the reward system in the brain, giving people a brief, pleasant feeling.

On the other hand, 19% of 12-17-year-olds report posting something they later regretting sharing. This may stem from the desire to be relevant online.

Most teens do things that they later regret on a regular basis, but the problem is that the internet provides such a large audience that it can leave them feeling very exposed.

The need to get likes, maintaining a social media personality and keeping up with everyone else can be time-consuming and stressful.

While the exact reason may not be clear yet, research shows that there is a link between increased time spent on social media and higher levels of depression. It seems that often, while intended to help people feel connected, social media leaves its users feeling worse and more lonely.

Human connection happens in its fullest form when people spend time together in person.

There are many health benefits associated with strong social connection, but the quality is much more important than quantity here, so even people with thousands of Instagram followers can feel lonely if they don’t have a couple of close friends to lean on.

Parents’ Guide to Teen Internet Use

Many teens have very active social media profiles to maintain, which can be stressful and time-consuming. Other online activities that can be problematic include online gaming, sexting, pornography, and gambling.

While no one part of digital media is inherently bad, teens need to learn how to use it and when to say no. Parents can role model and monitor their children’s internet usage to encourage a healthy relationship with digital media, here are some helpful tips:

  • Get to know the technology your child is using.
  • Have open communication around technology use, so that there can be an ongoing conversation around how devices fit into their world.
  • Set clear boundaries to what, when and how much they are online.
  • Role model appropriate use of technology:
    • Don’t use your phone while driving.
    • Make places like the living room and the dinner table technology free zones.
    • Model using the internet to find useful information and for communication that supplements in-person relationships.
  • Set a technology curfew.


It’s not just teens and young adults who have gotten hooked on technology, they are just the most vulnerable while they are developing the habits and social skills that will shape their lives. Many adults escape loneliness and boredom by jumping on their smartphone as well.

Being a positive role model for your kids when it comes to internet usage may be just what some parents need for themselves.

Signs of Technology Addictions

Most teens and many young adults will benefit from some rules and modeling around how to use social media and internet connected devices appropriately.

According to a survey, 59% of parents think their teens are addicted to their mobile devices, and 50% of teens agree that they are addicted. Signs that your teen or young adult has a problem with technology use:

  • Less interested in spending time with friends in person.
  • Secretive and sneaky about internet usage.
  • Decline in physical health (changes in sleeping pattern, weight gain or loss)
  • Suffering grades.

Drugs, Alcohol and Social Media

The breadth of online content ranges from glorifying drug use to educational information, support or even condemning the use of any drugs. On social media sites, teens and young adults are more likely to glorify partying than to announce publicly that they prefer to abstain.

This can lead to the impression that partying and drug use is more prevalent than it is.

A 2016 study notes the effects of digital peer pressure on teens. Just looking at photos with many likes activated the brain in ways that can increase their chances of imitating the behavior they saw.

This means that teens who see popular photos and posts of risky behavior are more likely to want to copy that behavior.

Monitor your teen’s use of social media to limit their exposure to pro-drug posts. When you notice something related to drugs or alcohol on their social media sites, you are there to talk to them about it.

Teens are just trying to figure out how to get their needs met as social beings. They want to feel connected to and valued by their peers. Parents and mentors can help teens learn to be in real connection, whether they have 5 Facebook friends or 5,000.

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