Understanding the Link Between Social Media and Anxiety in Kids and Teens

A group of diverse teens all on their phones standing in front of white wall. Photo could represent the growing level anxiety they feel over social media and the need for Christian counseling for kids and teens in Illinois and Florida.

In today’s fast-changing world of technology, social media has become a huge part of young people’s lives. While it has many advantages, it also raises significant concerns, especially about mental health.

One issue people are talking more and more about is how using social media might be linked to the growing levels of anxiety among kids and teens. In this article, we’ll look at how social media influences the minds of youth, the impact on mental health, and the available coping strategies and solutions for combatting overuse.

The Influence of Social Media on Kids and Teens

Social media is everywhere, and it plays a big role in how young people think and feel. It’s important to understand how using apps like Instagram or TikTok can affect their minds and emotions. Let’s look at some ways social media influences thoughts and emotions.

Constant comparison culture

On social media, people often show the best parts of their lives, making everything look perfect. This can make kids and teens feel like their own lives don’t measure up. When they compare themselves to these seemingly flawless images, it can create a sense of not being good enough and cause them to feel anxious or unhappy.

Imagine a teenager, let’s call her Sarah, who spends a lot of time on social media. Sarah scrolls through her feed and sees her friends posting about their seemingly perfect lives—beautifully staged photos, exciting vacations, and achievements.

One day, Sarah sees her friend Emma’s post about winning an award. Even though Sarah is happy for Emma, she starts comparing herself. She thinks about her own achievements, feeling like they don’t measure up. This comparison makes Sarah feel inadequate, like she’s not doing enough or not as successful as her peers.

Fear of missing out

The fear of missing out, or FOMO, gets stronger because of social media. When young people see constant updates and stories, they worry about not being part of things like parties or cool trends. This fear makes them want to always stay online to not miss out. As a result, they end up using social media too much, which can hurt how they feel mentally.

Let’s say Sarah now comes across Jake’s photos from a party. Everyone seems to be having the best time. Sarah, who wasn’t invited, feels left out and wonders why she wasn’t included. As Sarah scrolls through the posts, the fear of missing out begins to creep in. She worries about not being there, not being part of those moments, and not being included in the memories everyone seems to be making. This fear makes Alex feel anxious and stressed.

In response to this fear of missing out, Sarah starts obsessively checking social media, hoping for updates or messages that might include her in future plans. This fear keeps growing, leading to more time spent on social media to stay connected. Ironically, it ends up making Sarah feel more isolated and anxious about missing out on social events and experiences.

Cyberbullying and social pressures

The internet can be a tough place. Bullying, mean comments, and people saying hurtful things can really affect how kids and teens feel. Trying to fit in and be liked online can make them feel anxious, not good enough, and like they don’t belong. This pressure to be like everyone else online can seriously affect their mental health and make them feel disconnected from others.

Emily, a 14-year-old girl, is active on social media. She posted a picture of herself with friends at a recent event. After posting, she receives a string of hurtful comments from someone she doesn’t know, criticizing her appearance. These comments get increasingly mean, and soon, others start joining in, leaving nasty remarks about her looks and making fun of her outfit.

Feeling upset and embarrassed, Emily tries to ignore the comments, but they keep coming. She starts feeling self-conscious and anxious. She doesn’t want to check her social media anymore because she’s afraid of facing more hurtful messages. At the same time, she feels pressure to delete the post or change her appearance to avoid further criticism.

In this scenario, cyberbullying through hurtful comments and exclusion from social groups illustrates how online negativity and social pressures can deeply impact a teen’s mental well-being, leading to feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, and isolation.

The Impact on Mental Health

As parents, we understand that social media is a big part of how our kids and teens stay connected. But spending lots of time online can affect their mental health and make them more susceptible to the following:

Increased levels of anxiety and depression

Research has shown a connection between spending too much time on social media and increased feelings of anxiety and depression in young people. Seeing perfect images and feeling pressured to always be online can really add to these mental health problems.

Sleep disturbances

Using social media, especially right before going to bed, has been connected to messed-up sleep schedules in teenagers. These sleep problems don’t just affect their bodies but also make anxiety and mood issues worse. It becomes a cycle where their mental health keeps getting worse because of the sleep issues.

Negative body image and self-esteem issues

Seeing too many edited and changed pictures on social media can change how young people see their bodies and what they think is beautiful. This can make them unhappy with their bodies, feel less good about themselves, and sometimes, it can even lead to eating problems.

Solutions and Coping Strategies for Anxiety Linked to Social Media

Exploring ways to cope and find solutions can empower kids and teens to manage their online experiences in healthier ways. Let’s take a look at effective strategies that can help them navigate social media’s complexities and maintain better mental health.

Promote smart online skills and thoughtful technology use

It’s really important to teach kids and teens how social media can affect their minds. Showing them how to be careful online, knowing what’s real and what’s not, can help them use social media in a smart way.

Here are some examples of how to do so:

Digital literacy workshops

Hosting workshops or classes that teach kids and teens how to critically analyze information online, spot fake news, identify potential risks, and understand the impact of their online actions.

Safe social media guidelines

Providing guidelines and resources on how to create a safe and positive online presence. This includes tips on privacy settings, handling online conflicts, and recognizing and reporting cyberbullying.

Tech-free zones or times

Encouraging designated times or places where screens are off-limits, fostering activities like board games, reading, or outdoor play to reduce dependence on devices.

Role modeling by adults

Adults, including parents, teachers, and guardians, can model healthy technology habits. Demonstrating responsible and limited use of social media can positively influence younger individuals.

Encourage critical thinking

Teaching kids and teens to question the content they see online, discerning between authentic and manipulated information, and encouraging them to think critically before believing or sharing posts.

Mindful posting and consumption

Encouraging kids and teens to be mindful of what they post and consume. Encouraging positive interactions and avoiding comparison with others’ online lives can promote a healthier online experience.

Regular check-ins

Regularly checking in with kids and teens about their online experiences, concerns, and any negative feelings they might be encountering while using social media.

Limit screen time

Setting reasonable time limits for screen usage and encouraging breaks from devices to promote a balanced lifestyle.

Use parental control tools

Implementing parental control tools or apps to monitor and manage screen time and content accessed by younger individuals.

All these strategies aim to empower kids and teens with the skills and awareness needed to navigate the online world responsibly, ensuring they use social media and technology in ways that positively contribute to their lives.

Encourage offline activities and balanced lifestyles

It’s important to find a balance between being online and doing things offline. Participating in hobbies, playing sports, or enjoying activities that aren’t on screens helps create a more varied life. It also means not relying too much on social media for feeling good about yourself or talking to friends.

Here are some ideas for helping your child maintain a balanced lifestyle:

Promoting hobbies and sports

Encouraging participation in hobbies, sports, arts, or clubs outside of the online world. This might include joining a sports team, learning an instrument, painting, or engaging in other creative pursuits.

Outdoor adventures

Encouraging outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, or simply spending time in nature. This provides a break from screens and promotes physical activity.

Reading and learning

Promoting reading books, attending educational workshops, or engaging in activities that stimulate the mind without relying on screens.

Family time

Encouraging regular family activities like board game nights, cooking together, or engaging in shared hobbies that don’t involve screens.

Volunteering or community engagement

Encouraging involvement in community service, volunteering, or activities that allow kids and teens to connect with others in meaningful ways offline.

Setting screen-free zones

Designating certain areas in the home as screen-free zones, such as during meals or before bedtime, to encourage interaction without devices.

Encouraging face-to-face interaction

Encouraging kids and teens to spend time with friends in person, engaging in activities that involve direct interaction rather than solely through social media.

Fitness and exercise

Encouraging physical fitness through activities like yoga, dancing, or working out, promoting a healthy lifestyle away from screens.

Art and creativity

Encouraging artistic expression through drawing, painting, crafting, or other creative outlets that don’t involve screens.

These examples aim to create a more balanced lifestyle for kids and teens, ensuring that while they engage with social media, they also have plenty of fulfilling offline activities and experiences.

Open communication and support systems

It’s very important to make a space where young people can talk about their online experiences without feeling judged. Having support from parents, teachers, or counselors means they can get help if they’re having a hard time online or feeling anxious because of social media.

Here are some examples:

Establishing trusting relationships

Building trust between parents, teachers, and kids creating an environment where they feel comfortable talking openly about their online experiences without fear of judgment.

Family discussions

Holding regular discussions or family meetings where kids and teens can share their online experiences, concerns, or any issues they might be facing while using social media.

Counseling and mental health services

Providing access to counselors or mental health professionals who specialize in addressing the mental health effects of social media and providing guidance and support.

Online safety education programs

Organizing workshops or sessions that focus on online safety, cyberbullying prevention, and responsible social media usage, helping kids and teens understand potential risks and how to navigate them.

Parental monitoring and guidance

Parents actively engaging with their kids’ online activities while offering guidance and setting boundaries to ensure safe and healthy social media use.

Encouraging reporting and seeking help

Creating an environment where kids and teens feel empowered to report any online bullying or concerning behavior and encouraging them to seek help when needed.

Online resources and helplines

Providing access to online resources, helplines, or support groups specifically focused on addressing social media-related issues for kids and teens.

The goal in all these support systems is to create a supportive and open environment where kids and teens feel empowered to discuss their online experiences and seek help when facing challenges related to social media use.

In conclusion, the relationship between social media and anxiety in kids and teens is a complicated one. While social media serves as a powerful tool for connection and sharing, excessive use and the content it holds can profoundly impact the emotional well-being of kids and teens.

Addressing this issue requires collaborative efforts from parents, educators, mental health professionals, and tech experts working collectively to find solutions.

A good place to start is by teaching safe online skills, encouraging a mix of activities, and creating systems for support. These efforts can help our kids and teens manage the online world better and feel more confident mentally.

Begin Online Therapy for Kids and Teens with Anxiety in Illinois and now Florida.

Photo of Caucasian male teen sitting at his desk with headphones on and smiling into his laptop screen. Photo could represent him having online solution focused brief therapy with his online Christian counselor in Illinois who specializes in kids and teens with anxiety.If your child or teen is struggling with anxiety, including panic attacks, there is hope! Anxiety is highly treatable and online anxiety treatment at Briefly Counseling can help.

Using Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, I help kids and teens reduce their anxiety and build resilience so they can become a happier, more confident version of themselves.

And kids love being able to receive counseling from the comfort and privacy of their own home. Studies have consistently proven that online therapy delivers equal results to in-office counseling.

As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing counseling for anxiety. To start your child’s counseling journey, call me at 224-236-2296 or email Helena@BrieflyCounseling.com to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation.

Helena Madsen, MA, LCPC is the founder of Briefly Counseling. I specialize in providing online short-term anxiety treatment for kids and teens ages 7 – 18 as well as Christian counseling.

Whether you’re on the North Shore, in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Barrington, Libertyville, Glenview, or downstate Illinois, I can help.

And effective 2024, I am now licensed in Florida! For parents in Jacksonville, Pensacola, Destin, Crestview, Coral Gables, Weston, Parkland, Naples, Marco Island, and Pinecrest, I have immediate openings.

Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.