Written by Azin Anees, Relucent Intern

Social media plays a central role in the lives of adolescents, with over 94% of teenagers maintaining an online presence. According to a 2019 survey from Common Sense Media, teenagers spend 5-7 hours on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and Facebook. Statistics like this make us wonder what makes social media so addictive—especially for young people.

Using social media platforms, such as Instagram, to post pictures or videos that receive likes and positive comments lights up a part of the brain that is also stimulated when using an addictive substance. Experiencing something rewarding, such as receiving likes and notifications, instantly gratifies our brains, making us feel good. And when we experience something rewarding, our brain produces dopamine—a chemical messenger in the brain that makes us feel happy. Our brain then associates time spent on social media with positive reinforcement, inciting us to keep using it.

Adverse Effects of Social Media on Adolescent Mental Health

Self-Esteem, Insecurities and Social Comparison

Social media allows us only to show the parts of our lives that we wish for others to see. Most users only post pictures and videos when they appear in their best light, presenting unrealistic comparisons. It is also easy to invent an exciting life, persona or body image online, which can be incredibly harmful to adolescents who are just starting to discover themselves and develop their self-esteem.

The use of beauty filters also promotes unrealistic beauty standards, which teenagers often hold themselves against. These comparisons can cause teenagers to feel inadequate in their appearance and life, causing adolescents to feel insecure.

Anxiety and Depression

Social media screen time can be associated with an increase in the symptoms of depression and mental illness. Connections that social media users form online are less emotionally satisfying. This can lead to a rise in loneliness and a decrease in social activity in adolescents. Teenagers also may feel the pressure of staying up to date on social media. From responding to notifications on time to posting perfect pictures, this pressure can quickly lead to feelings of anxiety.

Sleep Deprivation

Teenagers often spend hours on their social media platforms, and they begin to lose hours of sleep. Sleep loss can cause moodiness, energy depletion, loss of attention span, and a drop in grades. It can even exacerbate existing youth mental health issues such as depression and ADHD. On average, teenagers need anywhere from 8-10 hours of sleep, so excessive use of social media can affect adolescents and young adults both mentally and physically.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

FOMO, also known as the fear of missing out, is a type of anxiety one gets when they’re scared of missing out on a positive experience that someone else is having. Social media use quickly exacerbates FOMO, as teenagers compare themselves to the lives of their friends and others.

It is easy to shine a light on only the fun parts of our life online. Teenagers then compare their lives to these romanticized pictures on social media, which can be detrimental to their mental health. Not staying up to date online can also be fear, leading to excessive social media use.

Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself Online

Altogether quitting social media isn’t a practical solution to the aforementioned harmful effects. However, there are things you can do to maintain your mental health while using social media.

  • Limiting screen time per day is a great way to prevent addiction and sleep deprivation.
  • Unfollowing accounts that increase feelings of FOMO, make you feel bad about yourself or your life, or promote unrealistic expectations through filters is also a great way to protect yourself.

Social media addiction is no joke, and if you feel as if your life is significantly impacted by social media use, it may be best to seek a therapist for help. Contact us at Relucent Psychology Group, and receive a free phone consultation for teen therapy.

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