Is social media responsible for depression in your teen?

The potentially dark side of social media for teens.

Teens and social media. Social media and teens. Has there ever been a more perfect match? Teenagers are digital natives who do not know a world without cell phones, apps, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter, 24/7 connection, and instant access to an inexhaustible world of information.

They have never known a time when they didn’t connect to the world by typing out messages with their thumbs on a tiny screen, where much of the language they use wasn’t an odd list of acronyms, and where their emotions could not be expressed through a range of cartoon smiley faces.

There is a great deal of positive benefits that can come from social media. Sites like Facebook and Instagram can enhance social connection and technical skills. Every tween and teen uses their device to do homework, research, write papers, collaborate on assignments, exchange ideas, and keep in contact with their teachers. Many schools have begun to successfully use social media platforms, such as blogs, as teaching tools.

However, the online world has a dark side as well. Much has been written about how young people spend too much time texting, Facebooking, tweeting, and gaming in the virtual universe. And, it is true that parents need to closely monitor the amount of time their teenagers spend “plugged in.”

Cyberbullying is a very real and serious concern, as is sexting (the sending of sexually explicit images and messages on mobile devices). These are aspects that must be addressed and talked about openly.

Yet there is another facet of social media which is not receiving enough attention: the depression and isolation that can go hand-in-hand with an over exposure to social media, also called “Facebook depression.”

Facebook depression can result when someone begins to feel unaccepted among online peers or believe they compare unfavorably to them. When they invest so much time online that it becomes their main “community,” it is easy for teens to lose perspective.

Similar to depression in the offline world, where people feel a lack of acceptance, Facebook depression can cause anxiety and withdrawal, and may lead to risky activities such as substance abuse, unsafe sex, or self-destructive behaviors. 

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics reports:

·         Social networking is on the rise with 22 percent of teenagers logging onto their favorite social networking sites more than 10 times a day

·         75 percent of teens own cell phones and “a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones”

Teenagers feel the need to be constantly “on” and available. The phenomenon of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is intense and very real for young people and creates a hamster wheel of “I want to stop but I can’t,” thus creating a cycle of anxiety. These teens start losing sleep and their eating habits are impacted, mostly because the lion’s share of social media usage occurs at night.

There are distinct aspects of Facebook that can make it a particularly challenging social environment to navigate for children and teens who are already experiencing poor self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.

Facebook pages can make some of these children feel even worse because they believe they don't measure up. The number of "friends" someone else has, status changes, and happy-go-lucky photos can have a devastating impact on an individual's self-worth if it is already fragile.

Facebook provides a skewed view of what's really going on in the world, leading to the development of a comparison-based identity. Facebook Depression sets in when the individual actually develops a belief that other people are living lives that are better, happier, and more fulfilling than their own - and that other people are more socially accepted and desired.

At Foundations Counseling, we see many young people and their parents who are dealing with this complex issue and we have various strategies for treatment. We are able to help.

If you are looking for some guidelines to set at home, consider setting a “digital sunset.” Model online/life balance to your children through your own actions.

Social media is a reality, and it’s only going to get more “real” and pervasive as technology continues to expand. As I said, technology is awesome! In many ways it has made us all more connected, more globally aware, and perhaps even better communicators. However, as with many things, there needs to be a healthy balance.

Facebook Depression is just as serious as any other form of depression. If you or someone you know would benefit from Facebook Depression therapy and counseling, please contact Foundations Counseling to arrange a free consultation.