Social media can cause negative impacts on a teen’s mental health
Social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have had some negative impacts on teenagers, especially girls, and especially during the pandemic where kids gravitated towards these platforms as a coping mechanism for loneliness, according to one Rutgers psychiatrist.
Dr. Muhammed Zeshan said during the pandemic and the quarantine, social media was a great platform for kids to feel connected. But it can also be a landmine especially when kids are vulnerable to cyberbullying.
Kids also have a fear of missing out when they see a peer doing something fun on social media, which can lead to anxiety, isolation and depression.
Zeshan said girls want desperately to fit in with their peers. They tend to focus on their own personalities and their physical appearances, which makes them more vulnerable and more susceptible to cyberbullying.
He is worried excessive social media use will worsen the disconnection children feel with their parents and families. He's also concerned it will lead to feelings of envy, body image concerns and eating disorders which, in turn, could cause more depression, anxiety and mental distress.
Parents should be aware of the warning signs. If a teen is being more isolated, or sleeping and eating patterns are disrupted, or if they are self-cutting, putting inappropriate images up on social media, grades are dropping and social interactions are changing, then parents need to have an open and honest conversation with them.
He said try not to judge them, but rather listen to their concerns. Parents often feel hopeless, helpless and frustrated, he added. But parents need to understand what is really going on with their teen.
Zeshan said it's normal for a teen to want to be cool and to want to do things to fit in with their peers. They may even do things out of character for them to gain popularity.
"Use of social media is important, connecting to your friends are important, but if that is affecting your sleep, if it is affecting your school performance, if that is affecting the day-to-day interactions, then I think it's good to have an open discussion of how we can help those teenagers to constantly use that social media platform without it affecting all these activities," Zeshan said.
Parents should encourage off-line activities. Sometimes parents must tell the teen to get off social media and hit the books instead. Honestly, this is boring for most teenagers, Zeshan said. So parents need to come up with creative ways to have off-line activities. That way, kids will want to brag about these activities on social media about going out, exercising and helping others.
He also said it's very important that parents talk about feelings. Parents tend to want to talk about behaviors, such as "do this but don't do that."
So, if a teenager appears to be sad, angry and frustrated, just name those feelings out loud. "In psychiatry terms, we call it ' the name it to tame it' where we are helping our teenagers to name their feelings so they can feel more connected to their parents," Zeshan said.
Last, he encouraged parents to reassure their teens that they are always here for them, even when they make mistakes.