Fort Worth, Texas,
09:54 AM

Is your teen's smart phone making them depressed?

Psychologist looks at link between mood and social media

If you ask most teens what they enjoy doing in their free time, you can bet you’ll hear the words Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat in their answer. Teenagers’ lives exist on social media. They use it to communicate, post photos, share content and essentially, chronicle their every move.

A recent poll by Common Sense Media shows how much teens rely n their media devices. About 50 percent of teens say they are addicted to their devices. 

But what are the consequences to this addiction?

While social media itself is not inherently dangerous, the content that teens are exposed to on social media can be harmful.

It may be all fun and games at first, sharing funny videos or posting pictures from vacation. But social media exists in an arena where comparison, bullying and inappropriate content can occur. While teens may not be using social media for these reasons, they are still in danger of exposure to potentially hurtful content, especially cyberbullying.

JAMA Pediatrics (The Journal of the American Medical Association) conducted 10 studies that explored the link between social media victimization and depression. Alarmingly, every single study showed a significant correlation.

Twenty-three percent of teens report that they have been targeted by cyberbullying. There’s something about the privacy of a keyboard and a screen that gives teenagers a false bravery and security, convincing them that they can post and share whatever they want, without consequences.

“Cyberbullying can be more extreme than other forms of bullying because it leaves the victim feeling as if they have no escape. Since it occurs on their personal electronic devices, they can be sent and received quickly with a feeling of permanence,” said Lisa Elliott, a licensed psychologist and clinic manager of Cook Children’s Behavioral Health in Denton

The National Institute of Mental Health estimated that 2.2 million adolescents have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year due to social media. Even worse, victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide. It’s heartbreaking to think that because of a cowardly comment typed from behind the security of a screen, a teenager decides that life just isn’t worth it.

Even if teens are not experiencing cyberbullying, some are finding their self-worth on social media. Teens invest emotion into the number of likes and comments on a post. The Common Sense Media poll found that 72 percent of teens feel the need to respond to text messages, social media messages and other notifications.

The more likes, the more validated they feel. The less likes, the more self-conscious and lonely they feel. It’s as if there’s some unspoken ranking based on the number of likes an Instagram post can get. Sorry, teens, but validation is not found in the double-tapping of a screen.

Social media is also the perfect platform for teens to experience what they call “FOMO” (fear of missing out). They compare themselves to their “friends” on social media, and are constantly exposed to things that make them yearn to be included. If your teen is commenting #FOMO on everything on their news feed, then they feel extremely dissatisfied with their life compared to somebody else’s because of the false reality social media has the power to project.

So what is the solution? If you ask a teen to quit social media, you may run the risk of sending them into a state of shock and withdrawal. It is also not fair to say that every teen on social media is depressed. So how do we address the ones that are suffering from the harmful effects of social media?

Elliott said to check what your teens are following. If their news feed is filled with braggadocios posts and bullying, then they need to reassess their “friends.” Social media should be a safe place to socialize.

Therefore, encourage your kids to be a light on social media – talk to them about how real life exists beyond a handheld gadget or a lit up laptop screen. Ultimately, challenge them to use their social media for positive interactions. If they wouldn’t say that comment out loud, in person, don’t say it. If they wouldn’t want their dad to see that photo, don’t post it. If they see something inappropriate on their news feed, report the content and remove the friend (they sound like trouble, anyways).

“Educate your children that everything they put out into the cyber world is there forever and how important it is to have a positive online reputation,” said Dr. Elliott.

Social media is not going to go away. However, there are ways to overpower the harmful effects it can have on our teenagers. Pay attention to their demeanor. If they’re in a bad mood, ask them how many Instagram likes they got that day.

Written by Elizabeth Sparks

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