Don’t let social media take over

Being a teen is tough. With hormones, new relationships and new responsibilities popping up, every teen can feel stressed and a little less like themselves. The rise in popularity of messaging apps and social media only make these common pressures worse.

"Teenagers today are growing up surrounded by smart technology and social media. Being connected in so many ways can put them at risk for emotional distress, isolation and bullying," explained Dr. Nicole Quinlan, Geisinger child psychologist.

Teen depression

With a whole world for connecting with others right at their fingertips, studies show teens often use social media like "surveillance" to watch over their friends and often compare their lives to classmates and peers. These comparisons can cause envy, loneliness and isolation.

"Teens often spend too much time in front of a screen late at night, which creates unnecessary stress and can lead to sleep problems and mood disturbances," said Dr. Quinlan. "The risk for adolescents having a major depressive episode is on the rise from even a few years ago."

While technology and social media are not the only factors that can lead to depression in teens, they may increase the risks for problems with self-esteem and self-efficacy during this vulnerable time of life.

Bullying

Social media and smart technology also create new channels for bullying. The American College of Pediatrics reports that over half of adolescents say they have been bullied online. Over 25 percent say they have been bullied online or through a cell phone.

Bullying online takes a different form than bullying in person. When bullied in person, the victim can identify who the bully is. Online, cyberbullies can have anonymity and less empathy for their victims.

Cyberbullies can hide behind a screen and say things they may not say in person. They can even hide their identity altogether behind fake profiles or accounts. Platforms from texting to gaming forums create spaces for cyberbullies to attack their victims and leave long-term effects on their mental health.

Tips for a better time online

If you live with a teen and sense they may be spending a lot of time online, there are different ways to minimize risks associated with social media and technology.

"It’s important for parents to set a good example for healthy screen time. Establish screen-free times throughout the day for the whole family," said Dr. Quinlan. "Put away your own screens and give your kids your full attention until they’re out the door, or use your phones before your kids get home to encourage more face-to-face conversation."

It is also important to talk to teens about being responsible when using their devices or social media. Encourage conversations about any risks such as spending too much time online, bullying or any other issues that may arise. Create an open line of communication with your teen to talk about anything they may struggle with in their time online.

"Talk to your kids about shared values on social media. Be aware of what apps or sites they visit. Encourage them to talk about what they do online, and how technology and social media might make them feel," said Dr. Quinlan.

Nicole Quinlan, PhD, is a Geisinger child psychologist. For more information on scheduling an appointment for your child with Dr. Quinlan or another Geisinger psychologist, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

Teen looking at cell phone