Social media and teens’ mental health

Whilst social media has many uses, it is often the youngest audiences who experience the most online harm and the mental health challenges that teens face due to social media usage are hard to deny. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic increased screen time and social media usage, creating more possibilities for teens to experience online harms, exacerbating the problem.

Instagram – picture perfect

Social media app Instagram, belonging to Meta’s Family of Apps, is one of the most popular social media apps in the world, with 41 percent of adults and teens in the United States using the app as of January 2021. Overall, eight percent of all Instagram users worldwide are aged between 13 and 17 years. Whilst teens and tweens may not be Instagram’s largest audience base, usage of the app still sees a substantial amount of its younger users experiencing negative feelings after browsing. In 2019, 51 percent of teens in the UK said that after using the app they felt they had to create the perfect image . Furthermore, 43 percent of young people said that they felt they were not attractive, whilst 42 percent felt they did not have enough money. Other negative emotions were feeling depressed, lonely, and suicidal.

TikTok – the impact of online video challenges

As of September 2021, a quarter of all TikTok users in the United States were aged between 10 and 19 years old, making the app most popular with this age group. Usage of the app continues to grow among Gen Z . The video sharing app is known for users uploading videos of pranks and challenges, which can have negative impacts on young users. In 2021, 11 percent of teens said that taking part in online challenges had a negative impact on them. One in ten users claiming to have experienced negative impacts after partaking in an online challenge is a remarkable total number of users due to the sheer size of TikTok’s user base.

Image pressure on social media

Generation Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, have lots of exposure to heavily curated images when considering their time spent on social media platforms. In 2021, 45 percent of Gen Z social media users in the United States said that there was too much pressure to be perfect on social media. The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns brought about a surge in social media usage. Whilst the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns can also be blamed as a cause of teen mental health problems, social media has already been linked to mental wellbeing issues in the past. For example, in 2019, 23 percent of girls aged 13 to 17 in the United Kingdom said that use of Instagram had made them feel somewhat worse than before. Teenage girls were considerably more likely to feel worse after using the platform than teenage boys.

Parental concerns

Instagram is the platform that parents find most concerning , followed by Snapchat and TikTok. As of June 2020, parents of teens who use social media consider the use of social media to negatively affect their children in number of ways, with 58 percent saying that it caused them to not sleep enough . Other issues that concerned parents regarding social media was their teens’ unhealthy need for approval or attention and being bullied. In addition, 17 percent of parents of teens thought that their child felt angry as a result of social media use, and 15 percent said that their teens felt depressed .

Positive aspects of teenage social media usage

Although use of social media can negatively affect teens mental health, it has also been widely used to stay connected with others, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2021, almost half of all internet users worldwide said that the most popular reason for using social media was to keep in touch with family and friends . Other common reasons for using social media were finding like-minded communities and interest groups, watching live-streams, and supporting good causes. Teens’ relationship with social media, although somewhat problematic, presents countless opportunities for connection and entertainment.

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