The Links Between Social Media and Teen Depression

Social media can be a great way to connect to people, express yourself, learn about cool things, and even make money. Still, the enormous downside is that it creates unrealistic expectations for life.

Sites like Instagram and TikTok can make us feel as if we’re not good enough. They can also be used to bully and harass people, which can be just as hurtful as doing it in real life.

According to the 2021 Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, “84% of teens use social media, but only 34% of them say they enjoy social media ‘a lot.'” The rise of social media use in teens has corresponded with an increase in cases of teenage depression.

The Child Minds Institute states: “In several studies, teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time.”

That doesn’t mean that using social media directly causes teen depression, but it can contribute to it. It’s important to understand the links between social media and teen depression so that you can warn your teenager about the dangers and educate them on how to use social media responsibly. Also, if your teen is depressed, you need to know the warning signs and how to properly support them without accidentally pushing them further away.

What Causes Teen Depression?

Depression is complex and can develop due to a variety of factors:

Genetics: If you or other relatives suffer from depression, your teenager has a higher chance of developing it.

Brain chemistry: Changes in brain chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine levels can cause depressive symptoms.

Life events: Traumatic or stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, a breakup, or financial difficulties, can trigger depression.

Chronic illness: Chronic medical conditions, such as chronic pain or heart disease, can increase the risk of depression.

Substance abuse: Substance abuse and addiction can lead to depression, as well as make existing depression symptoms worse.

Environmental factors: Exposure to adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect, can increase the risk of developing depression.

Personality: People with certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem or a pessimistic outlook, may be more susceptible to depression.

Does Social Media Cause Depression in Teens?

Social media can be a contributing factor in teen depression because it can cause teens to compare themselves to others and feel inadequate as a result. They can develop low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety for not looking a certain way or having a certain lifestyle that they see other people having online.

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The reason why social media can be so addictive is that it was purposely designed that way. The sounds, like buttons, and endless scrolling were ripped off of casino slot machines and applied to social media to raise your dopamine levels every time you get a like or comment and to keep you wanting more. It changes your brain chemistry without you even being aware of it!

That’s why some creators of major social media apps are now warning people of the dangers of social media use. This video of Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook, is eye-opening. He warns people about social media addiction and how these apps were designed to be addictive.

If adults can become addicted to social media, imagine how much it’s negatively affecting teenagers.

One of the major problems with excessive social media use among teenagers is the decline in face-to-face interactions and the reliance on these apps for forming meaningful connections with others.

Humans are social creatures and need real interactions and affection. Even though you can form good friendships online, it’s not the same as hanging out with humans in real life. Just sitting next to another person that you care about can give you a sense of connection and belonging that you cannot get by chatting with someone online.

So, if a teenager is having more social interactions online than in person, they’re more likely to feel isolated from their peers and become depressed. They will also end up relying on social media validation to feel good about themselves rather than building their own confidence by accomplishing goals, taking care of themselves, and exploring new things.

ALSO: Why You Should Encourage Your Teen to Travel

Teens who use a lot of social media tend to be less likely to be physically active, which can cause depression. If a teen is sitting around looking at a screen all day and night, their physical and mental health will suffer from it.

We all need to exercise and be active no matter what age we are, but teenagers really need it because they’re going through a crucial stage of physical, mental, and emotional development. Being active helps them establish healthy habits, maintain a healthy weight, boost their mood and energy levels, improve their sleep, and develop confidence and self-esteem.

ALSO: Is Your Teen Sadfishing?

Using a screen before bed can mess with your sleep because it can overstimulate your brain when you should be winding down and relaxing. If your teenager is scrolling through social media right before bed, they might stay up much later and get less sleep which will impact their mood during the day and cause depression.

Cyberbullying is now a huge problem among teenagers and is just as harmful, if not more harmful, as physical bullying. The Pew Research center says, “59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online, and a similar share says it’s a major problem for people their age.”

Cyberbullying has caused teenagers to leave school and even flee their city. Some have even committed suicide because the bullying got so bad.

It’s a real problem and can happen to any teenager for any reason. Teenagers need to be taught not to bully others online and to tell someone they trust when they are being bullied or seeing others bullied.

There are things that you can do to make sure that your teenager is using social media in a healthy and safe way.

  • Educate your teen on how social media can be addictive and negatively affect their mental health. You can show them videos like this one about “digital depression” or this video on social media addiction.
  • Have “screen-free” time at home where the whole family puts away their screens and enjoys some real-life interaction. Dinner and family game nights are perfect times for this.
  • Encourage your teenager to get involved in group activities like sports or clubs where they’re doing something fun and interacting with people their age.
  • Encourage your teenager to exercise. Find what types of exercise they like and sign them up for classes or exercise with them.
  • Check-in with your teenager regularly. Most teens don’t want to talk to their parents and will roll their eyes when you ask them how they’re doing, but ask them anyway. Showing that you care and are there for them is important to them, even if they don’t act like it is.
  • Listen to your teenager! If your teen actually tells you something, listen without judgment. Don’t give unsolicited advice; just listen. If you want them to come to you when something serious is going on, they need to trust you and know that they will not get in trouble or have to endure a lecture because they tried to confide in you.
  • Recommend that your teen delete certain apps or unfollow certain influencers if consuming that content is making them feel bad.

If you observe signs of depression in your teenager, such as decreased communication, persistent fatigue, avoidance of school, declining grades, reduced appetite, low energy levels, or disinterest in previously enjoyed activities, it is essential to seek assistance from a mental health professional.

Because of all the extreme changes that they are dealing with internally and externally, teens are at high risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Social media can make those symptoms much worse. But by educating your teen and communicating with them regularly, you can help them avoid certain dangers and effectively support them when they need help.

Tracy Lowe

Tracy is a writer and filmmaker from Los Angeles, but Thailand has been her primary home for over a decade. She has more than 13 years of experience teaching young children and is a major proponent of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning.

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