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How Social Media Impacts the Mental Health of Teens and Adolescents

Did you know that by 2015, 92% of teens and young adults owned their own smartphones? As these numbers began to rise, so did feelings of anxiety, depression, social isolation, and a variety of other negative consequences.

Anyone with a working smartphone device can clearly see the rapidly evolving nature of this technology right at their fingertips. While there are plenty of new and exciting opportunities that come with these advancements, there are also a vast number of negative risks involved.

Follow along to find out how social media has impacted the mental health of teens and adolescents as we uncover the risks of social media, how much use is too much, and strategies to create a healthier relationship with social media.

Risks of Social Media on Youth and Adolescents

Among the different risk factors of social media, here are some of the more commonly expressed symptoms that arise more often within the youth and adolescent populations.


In a digital world, it has become easier than ever for adolescents, teens, and even some adults to bully their peers. Even since the first online chat room back in the early 2000s, kids have been hiding behind their computer screens to put down, harass, and embarrass others online.

As a malicious form of emotional bullying, cyberbullying takes place purely online through the use of smartphones, computers, and gaming consoles. While it can occur privately through text messaging, messaging apps, or email, cyberbullying has taken to public forums since the development of major social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok.

According to current bullying statistics, the negative impacts of cyberbullying can be longer-lasting and more severe than traditional school-yard bullying. With further research, cyberbullying has been reported to nearly double from 18% in 2007 to 37% in 2019. With this, more teens and adolescents are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, impacted academic achievement, dropping out of school, and even suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

Stress and Depression

It’s no surprise that social media is one of the primary causes of stress and depression in teens and adolescents. With increased feelings of “FOMO” — otherwise known as the Fear of Missing Out — personal dissatisfaction, and isolation, these negative feelings can manifest into more severe symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.

This Canadian assessment on social media use confirms that around 20% of social media users under the age of 30 reported feeling anxious or depressed due to their phone use. This was compared to 12% of those between the age of 35 and 49 which demonstrates that social media takes more of a toll on the mental health of our teen and adolescent community.

Social Comparison and Low Self-Esteem

It’s no hidden secret that social media gives us the ability to curate the “perfect” version of ourselves online. From the outside looking in, we see our peers with flawless skin, amazing fashion sense, and a seemingly exceptional life. With the use of different filters and apps to photoshop images, it’s challenging to clearly see what is real and what is not!

What’s worse is that teens and adolescents may not fully recognize this when they open their social media and scroll through one flawless photo after the next. With this comes negative social comparisons causing these teens to feel poorly about their own appearance, abilities, and accomplishments.

While concerns for self-esteem and confidence are already at an all-time high during middle and high school years, social media exacerbates this problem even further. Unfortunately, this comparison mindset puts more teens at risk of depression, isolation, and possibility even thoughts or actions of self-harm or suicide.

Social Isolation

It’s not uncommon to assume that social media is used to combat feelings of loneliness. With the abundance of friends and followers at your fingertips, how can it be possible to feel alone? Well, social media usage is found to cause heightened feelings of social isolation by substituting real-life interactions with an unrealistic or distorted form of “connection”.

Social isolation is defined as a state in which an individual lacks a sense of belonging, authentic engagement with their peers, or any sort of fulfillment in their relationships. This 2018 study on social media use and perceived social isolation found that teens and young adults who use social media for extensive periods of time are 3 times as likely to feel isolated. One reason behind this is that they’re watching their peers engage in social activities through their screens rather than in person.

How Much is Too Much?

Although there is not an exact timeframe of “optimal social media use”, there are some indicators to suggest your child may be overdoing it on social media. The rule of thumb is that if social media is interfering with the time they could be spending on productivity or engaging with others to help with developmental growth, then they may be exposed to too much screen time.

With more of an extreme take to minimizing social media usage, this recent study shows that students who decrease their screen time to 30 minutes per day demonstrated significant improvement in their mental health and well-being. Although there may be some minor differences from one person to another, it’s safe to assume that less is certainly more when it comes to social media use.

Strategies to Create a Healthier Relationship with Social Media

If your child is over-using social media, here are 5 strategies to help limit the negative impacts.

1. Set reasonable time limits

Controlling the amount of time each day that your child is exposed to social media is one of the most beneficial tips towards managing mental health symptoms of overuse. For example, you can set this boundary by limiting their screen time to ~1 hour each day. In addition, it’s especially helpful to avoid social media use during the night by keeping smartphones and tablets out of their bedrooms.

2. Monitor their social media activity

It’s very easy for teens and adolescents to stray into unsolicited or inappropriate social media use without proper monitoring. One way to control this is by creating an expectation that you will check their social media activity 1-2 times per week.

3. Encourage more face-to-face interactions

If your teen is struggling with loneliness or social isolation, it’s crucial to help them manage these symptoms by encouraging more in-person interactions. If face-to-face isn’t possible, even the use of Facetime or Zoom can be more beneficial for your child’s mental health compared to scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.

4. Discuss what is inappropriate social media use

Having an open and honest discussion upfront to discuss inappropriate social media use can help direct your teen to use their electronics more productively. Discourage acts of gossip, rumour spreading, bullying, or any other type of online harassment. Also, it’s important to discuss what is appropriate and safe to share online and the potential negative repercussions of having a photo “leaked” into the digital world.

5. Ask questions and engage with your teen often

With social media, it’s common for teens to become more closed off to their parents as they hide behind their screens. It can be helpful to engage with your teen often about social media — both the risks and benefits of its use. Ask them how they’re feeling about it and continue to remind them that so much of what they’re seeing may be fake!

It’s Time to Change

With the right controls in place, such as monitoring screen time and activity, there are some benefits to social media. Despite this upside, it’s important to note that too much social media use can do more harm than good to the mental health of teens and adolescent children.  If you or your child are looking for an outlet to help manage symptoms of mental health, consider reaching out for support. At On Your Mind Counselling, our team of dedicated therapists have an abundance of knowledge on mental illness in teens and young adults. Together, we will help build resilience, instill confidence, and help develop strategies to overcome negative symptoms of social media use. Click here to book a free consultation today!

Written by Tori Mudie BA, MA, RP, CCC

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