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Social Media & Uptick in Teen Depression & Anxiety: 4 Suggestions for Parents

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It can be a source of great contention in the home. Many teenagers are glued to their smartphone or other devices. Trying to pry them away from them just to take a break usually responds in "end of the world" reactions from our teens.

While we as parents understand that just like most things in life, balance and moderation are key elements in most things. Just how to help our teens learn balance and moderation with something that has such a powerful grip on them can be tricky.

More and more studies are coming out that tie the uptick in teen depression and teen anxiety to social media use. So, what exactly is triggering about social media use?

Elements of Social Media Use That May Trigger Increased Teen Depression, Teen Anxiety, & Even Teen Suicide

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The Harvard Graduate School of Education explored this topic. I believe they have nailed it right on the head in a very succinct way.

In their article, they cite teen and technology expert Amanda Lenhart’s 2015 Pew study of teens, technology, and friendships reveals a range of social media-induced stressors:

  • Seeing people posting about events to which you haven’t been invited

  • Feeling pressure to post positive and attractive content about yourself

  • Feeling pressure to get comments and likes on your posts

  • Having someone post things about you that you cannot change or control

They go on to state that in analyses of thousands of adolescents’ reactions to digital stressors, Weinstein and her colleagues have found even more challenges:

  • Feeling replaceable: If you don’t respond to a best friend’s picture quickly or effusively enough, will she find a better friend?

  • Too much communication: A boyfriend or girlfriend wants you to be texting far more often than you’re comfortable with.

  • Digital “FOMO”: If you’re not up to date on the latest social media posts, will it prevent you from feeling like you can participate in real-life conversations at school the next day?

  • Attachment to actual devices: If your phone is out of reach, will your privacy be invaded? Will you miss a message from a friend when he needs you?

The National Center for Biotechnology Information has also conducted research into social media and the rise in teen depression and teen suicide. They found that most studies identify four main themes of research, including:

1. The quantity of social media use

2. The quality of social media use

3. Social aspects associated with social media use, and

4. Social media as a tool for disclosure of mental health symptoms and potential for prediction and prevention of depression and suicide outcomes

In their studies, the found an association between the frequency of social media use and teen anxiety, teen depression, and even suicide.

So, What Can We as Parents Do?

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The teen years are the years where being with their friends is developmentally essential. This is where they experiment with figuring out who they are separate from their parents, what they value, their beliefs, and gain their self-identity.

This is also where they learn to gain the necessary steps towards independence on their journey toward young adulthood and later adulthood.

With much of a teenager's social life being on the digital playground today, it can be challenging and frustrating for parents. Not to mention the resistance we may get from our teenagers around topics of social media and screen time.

Below are some suggestions from experts in the field.

1. Individualize Your Approach

As we already know, we can't parent each child the same. They have their own unique, individualized needs and may require different types of support. Check in with your teen if you notice a dip in mood that looks like depression or if they appear more anxious than usual.

Listen to your teen. Teens are sometimes afraid that parents may overreact and severely limit their use of social media or other screen time. As you listen to your teen's concerns, work with them on what they believe the appropriate amount of social media or screen time may be.

You still may have to be the heavy if your teen is in denial about social media or other screen time being the culprit in their depression or anxiety but often teens recognize the effect and understand some limits may be helpful.

2. Set Times Where the Family Will be Screen Free

It can be really easy for all family members to be in the same room each on their separate devices. You have some together time, but no one is talking but are focused on their own devices.

While we are talking about the importance of teen's needing screen free time, if you can set times where the family will join in the screen free time, it can be more tolerable for the teen. They still may not be happy about it, but it will be more digestible for them if it's a family thing and not just a teenage child thing.

3. Educate Your Teen & Family

When you as a parent express concern over the amount of social media and screen time, they may be more resistant. But when you spend time encouraging your teen to educate themselves about the impact of social media on teens, your concerns are now backed by the experts.

If your teen doesn't seem too interested in educating themselves, you may choose to have a family night where you as the parents talk about the rise in teen depression, teen anxiety, and even teen suicide among teens and the association with social media and screen time.

I bet if you asked if they have experienced anxiety or depressed feelings (you may have to define and be clear about what those feel like), they may acknowledge there have been times where they have had some of these feelings.

If not them, they may know friends or other people at school who have experienced anxiety or depression and possibly even suicide with social media playing a factor.

4. Charge Smart Devices at Night in a Centralized Location -- Not the Bedrooms

I don't know many teens who are allowed to charge their phones or other smart devices in their rooms who are also not using them, late at night, when they are not "allowed" to.

Having the family rule that smart devices are turned off at a specific time and that they need to be charged in the family room, kitchen, home office, or anywhere other than the bedroom or close access to the bedroom is important.

Katy Teen & Family Counseling: 50+ Years of Combined Experience in Teen Counseling

Parenting teens in today's world poses challenges that teens of previous generations did not have to face. At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we specialize in teen therapy.

With 50+ years of combined experience, we can help your teen who may be struggling with depression or anxiety. We also specialize in family therapy which can be a helpful approach when working through challenges around social media and screen time.

If you have a teen who is struggling with depression, anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks or other challenges, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:

  1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling

  2. Speak with one of our caring therapists

  3. Start meeting with one of our therapists who specializes in working with teens

Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling

At our Katy, Tx location of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we use therapy and counseling approaches that are supported by research. These approaches have been shown to work in the shortest amount of time.

In addition to teen therapy, counseling for young adults, family therapy, and marriage counseling or couples therapy, we also offer the following therapy and counseling services:

Neurofeedback Therapy

Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)

Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

About the Author

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Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker. He specializes in teen therapy, family counseling, and counseling young adults. He has provided therapy to teens and families since 2003.

Jason helps teens and young adults in the Katy, Tx and Houston area who struggle with ADHD/ADD, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, trauma, PTSD, and other challenges.

He also works with talented teen athletes and Gifted students who experience unique challenges.

Jason is also Board Certified in Neurofeedback (BCN) and has found neurofeedback to be one of the most effective approaches to a variety of teen struggles.

If you would like to learn more, please call or email us.


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