Social connection – the sense of being understood and genuinely belonging within a group – has been identified as a major contributor to a healthy, fulfilling life. It’s a “chicken soup” for our physical and psychological well-being, especially for adolescents who are struggling with who they are and finding their place in the world.
With the onslaught of social media apps such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and more, enabling teens to connect socially with “friends” all over the world, the question is, does that fulfill this basic human need? We can crowdsource ride shares, overnight accommodations and fund-raising, but can we fulfill our need for connection online? Teens can easily collect “friends,” join online groups and continually share their opinions and whereabouts to get approval through likes, comments and retweets. No generation has been as “connected” as today’s teenagers. So why are anxiety, depression and suicide increasing at such alarming rates within this age group?
It appears that as “social” as these apps are deemed to be, their positive effects may be fleeting, and they can actually be isolating and defeating to adolescents. Genuine social connection can’t typically be achieved through a number of likes or views on a post. “Being liked or followed on social media is a clear sign that someone is with you, but it doesn’t mean that someone is your close friend or values you as a human being,” says Dr. Rachel Singer, psychologist at the Center for Anxiety and Behavioral Change in Rockville, Md.
Instead of using social media to truly connect with one another, teens are actually seeking reassurance. “We waste inordinate amounts of time primping, arranging and posing for our latest Instagram pictures because we want to matter. We want to feel important, valued, noticed, talked about and relevant,” writes author John P. Weiss. But that’s not what ends up happening, observes Dr. Singer. “Teens post something to see the number of likes, retweets, etc., and if not immediately granted or not reaching the level they are seeking, it can create a negative self-evaluation,” she says. “It’s like trying to fill a pasta strainer with water – no matter how much goes into it, it will never fill up.”
Adolescence is already a time of tremendous ego involvement. Teenagers are constantly comparing themselves with classmates in terms of grades, popularity, looks, etc. Social media exacerbates this egocentric period, bringing out the worst in teens’ insecurities. “Before social media, you could have a break from the scrutiny and judgment of peers when you left school; now it follows teens home,” Singer says.
While not all social media use is “bad,” it is yet another area in life in which teens need to strike a balance. Research results published in the November 2018 Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology by the University of Pennsylvania reports that reducing time spent on social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram may help improve well-being. “Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness,” states the study’s co-author Melissa G. Hunt. “These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”
How can parents help teens achieve this healthy social media balance? Here are five productive steps you can take:
For more ideas about helping teens develop and maintain a healthy social media balance, check out our next webinar, Teens
Curious about the difference between encouragement and praise? For many of us, the language of encouragement is not our native language. Fortunately, PEP has an “app” for that! Join our online class, Encouragement! Building Your Child’s Confidence From the Inside Out where you’ll learn strategies and techniques that will forever alter the way you communicate with your kids, your family, and your colleagues!
This article, shared with permission, originally appeared in the February edition of Washington Parent Magazine.