Today’s teenager has 24/7 access to social media. That means every choice, every selfie, every casual comment has the potential to turn into a viral sensation overnight. That possibility, alongside the pressure to constantly be online, is causing many teens to feel stressed out and parents are left wondering how to help their children manage.
Todd Adamowich, Clinical Social Worker and Therapist whose practice focuses on teens 14-19 says, “With the introduction of social media we have seen increasing stress levels, increased social and generalized anxiety, and a decreased ability to maintain focus, decreased abilities to communicate particularly when conflict is involved, as well as an increase in bullying. Cyberbullying has created a new type of stress that previous generations have not had to face the way the current population does.”
Adolescence is a critically important physical and emotional developmental stage. It is the last step before becoming an adult. Researchers at the National Institutes for Mental Health have noted that what a teenager does and is exposed to during these years has a profound impact on his/her future.
Paul O’ Reilley, Editor in Chief at The Online Mom, a site designed to equip parents to raise their children in a digital age, says, “I’m concerned about how social media and the internet are adding to stress levels for kids, particularly teens. When everything is shared or shareable, it’s easy for kids to feel that they can’t compete or that they aren’t living up to expectations.”
Social media has become an integral part of how teenagers form their identity and how they manage relationships. Adamowich says, “For teenagers, there’s an ever increasing sense of monitoring. Teens are obsessed with checking in, to see what their friends, boyfriends and girlfriends are doing, people have developed a “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO) when they see their friends post online but they weren’t included in whatever it is they are posting.”
There’s no question teens are stressed out. In response to a 2015 study by WebMD, 55% of parents reported that their teens experienced moderate to high stress levels due to social media, with higher stress reported in girls (58%) than boys (45%). In addition, a 2015 study out of the University of Glasgow found the constant need to be connected to peers through social media caused teens to feel depressed/anxious and resulted in decreased sleep quality.
Adamowich sees that stress manifested in his clients through, “Anxiety, depression, mood disorders, a lack of confidence, difficulty managing trust, an inability to focus, and difficulty communicating in real life.”
Teaching teens to find balance is the key. O’Reilly says, “Raising kids to see technology and digital devices as tools for knowledge and entertainment rather than an essential life-support system is probably the biggest challenge. Balance is still important, but hard to achieve where technology is concerned.”
In a Huffington Post article on teens and social media stress, Kristen Race, Ph.D., recommends parents start by educating themselves. It’s also important to keep up with trends in social media and model appropriate online behavior. Additionally, she recommends having a family conversation about the plusses and minuses of social media engagement. If the child indicates s/he is stressed out, parents should validate those feelings. This is also a good opportunity to talk about multi-tasking, balancing work and play, and learning how to set healthy boundaries. For some teens, that may include leaving their phone, tablet or laptop in another room, especially at night. If necessary, parents can help their kids set up a social media detox, which hits the reset button and eliminates pressure.
It is important for parents to remind their teens that it is okay to disconnect. In fact, it’s more than just okay – it is imperative.