Social Media and Teens, yay or nay?

Social media has ingrained itself into the daily lives of most teenagers, with 95% of 13–17-year-olds using one or more social media platforms for an average of 9 hours a day. Is this excessive? Many experts, parents, and even teenagers themselves believe so.

Essential tool or distraction?

For many, social media is viewed as an essential tool for communication, self-expression, and connecting with others. The pervasive presence of the internet in our lives underscores the importance of parents being mindful and intentional about their own smartphone and device usage. While teens may appear oblivious, they are astute observers, and parental modeling remains a powerful teaching tool. A recent survey by the Pew Center revealed that nearly half of teens (46%) feel their parents are distracted by their phones when trying to communicate with them.

Your brain on Social Media

Understanding the impact of social media during this critical developmental stage is crucial for parents. Adolescence is a time of hormonal changes and brain development that can contribute to emotional dysregulation and engagement in risky behaviors. The brain’s reward centers are particularly active and susceptible, leading to impulsive behaviors and increased vulnerability to addiction.

Brain Development

As highlighted by Jonathan Haidt in a recent article in The Atlantic, smartphone usage has reshaped the developmental pathways of the current generation of children. Since 2015, various aspects of life such as friendships, dating, sexuality, exercise, sleep, academics, family dynamics, and identity have all been influenced by the prevalence of smartphones and social media.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to smartphone and social media usage among teens. While it has become widely accepted, it is important to recognize that it is both a privilege and a risk. Similar to a teenager driving a car, there are limits, precautions, and responsibilities that need to be observed. Establishing boundaries early on helps teens understand that using social media is not an inherent right.

Pros of social media for young teens include:

1. Communication: Social media enables teens to stay connected with friends and family members regardless of distance.
2. Self-expression: Teens can utilize social media as a platform to showcase their creativity, opinions, and thoughts. For racial and ethnic minority youth, social media can serve as a means to connect with peers who share their identities and enhance their well-being.
3. Access to information: Social media offers a wealth of information on various topics, aiding teens in staying informed and educated.

Cons of social media for young teens include:

1. Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is a significant risk associated with social media, where teens may face harassment, threats, or negative comments from peers.
2. Privacy concerns: Teens may inadvertently disclose personal information online, exposing themselves to identity theft or other privacy breaches.
3. Mental health issues: Excessive social media use has been linked to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem in teens. Research indicates that adolescents spending five or more hours a day on social media are more likely to report lower levels of happiness and well-being compared to those with limited usage. Additionally, adolescent girls are more prone to feeling overwhelmed by online drama, experiencing a sense of exclusion, or feeling discontent with their lives due to social media use.

Monitor and regulate teens’ social media usage:

1. Set limits: Internet and smartphone usage are privileges that come with corresponding responsibilities. Collaborate with your teen to establish agreements regarding when and for how long they can use social media each day. If usage interferes with essential activities such as sleep, mealtime, family time, academics, exercise, or chores, agreements should be revisited.
2. Educate on online safety: Educate teens on the significance of privacy settings, the risks of sharing personal information online, and how to address cyberbullying.
3. Monitor activity: Keep track of your teen’s social media accounts and engage in open discussions about their online behavior. The reward systems employed by platforms, such as “likes” and gaming wins, can foster obsessive usage. Social media platforms are designed to encourage continued usage and potential addiction. Teens should understand how algorithms can influence their online behavior and discern whether they are consciously following these prompts. Developing the willpower to resist such temptations is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.
4. Encourage real-world experiences: Parents should actively replace screen time with real-world activities involving friends and independent pursuits. Encourage participation in family activities, caregiving, and responsibilities both at home and in the community. Children are more capable and resilient than often perceived.

Visit for additional ideas on promoting independence from screens and fostering greater engagement with nature and human interactions. By taking a proactive approach and staying involved in their teens’ social media usage, parents can help mitigate risks and ensure a safer online experience for their children.