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Can Social Media Use Increase Teen Depression? Orlando Child Therapist Shares

Social media use through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat has become a central activity in most teens’ lives. Teens may use social media actively to post their own pictures and updates, or passively to view others’ posts. Creating posts on social media has an opportunity to engage a teen’s creativity and self-expression. It can create a feeling of belonging when teens connect with friends, and even introduce a teen to the unique experiences of those who come from different backgrounds. However, social media is also notorious for having negative effects on teens’ mental wellbeing. Two hours or more on social media per day has been linked to negative mental health outcomes in teens, and may even lead to depression. This can happen through social media abuse’s physical disturbances, as well as cognitive effects such as unrealistic peer comparisons and searching for external validation.

Social media overuse can subject a teen to certain negative health outcomes. If a teen spends an excessive amount of time browsing social media, it can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, robbing a teen of the physiological and mental benefits of physical activity. In the worst cases, this kind of lifestyle can even lead to weight gain. In addition to inactivity, social media abuse has been linked to sleep disturbances. Teens may stay up late to use social media, and when they do decide to sleep, excessive late-night exposure to blue light from phone or computer screens can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Many teens keep their phones charging by their beds at night, so audible phone notifications have the potential to disturb sleep. Proper sleep is essential to a developing teen’s health, so disruptions in the sleep cycle can leave a teen more vulnerable to mental health issues, including depression.

Alongside physical effects, social media abuse has the potential to introduce negative mental and emotional effects to a teen. When anyone posts on social media, they are likely to expose only the highlights of their lives, such as vacations or nights out, rather than commonplace occurrences or struggles. This results in “curated” content on social media, in which it may appear that the user has a perfect, exciting life. This can create unrealistic lifestyle expectations for teens, who may feel that their own lives are inadequate, sad, or boring in comparison. Additionally, celebrities and even teens’ peers may post photos of themselves that are digitally enhanced to make them look thinner or more flawless than they actually are. Through exposure to photoshopped and filtered images, teens may develop unrealistic body expectations, which have the potential to negatively affect their self esteem. In the worst cases, excessive social comparison can lead to mental health struggles.

It is a normal milestone in adolescent development that teens will begin to look to their peers, rather than their families, for social validation. However, social media abuse can create a false platform for receiving social attention. Teens may search for validation through the numbers of followers or “friends” on social media they have, or on how many “likes” or comments they receive on their posts. The affirmation they feel from this kind of attention can be addictive, even though it is not indicative of true social acceptance. When teens don’t receive the amount of attention that they feel is socially mandated, it can cause psychological distress. Excessive reliance on social media for external validation can leave a teen even more vulnerable to cyberbullying.

Though use of social media is definitely not guaranteed to cause mental health issues, social media overuse and its accompanying physiological and emotional disturbances can lead to a teen experiencing symptoms of depression. Teens may not find enjoyment in their favorite activities anymore. They often experience strong or overwhelming feelings of loneliness, sadness, guilt, and hopelessness. Problematic disturbances in sleeping and eating can occur, either too much or too little of either. Depressed teens will withdraw from family and friends. Fortunately, relief from these distressing symptoms is available through the correct therapeutic approach.

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, we utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an extremely effective intervention for teen depression. CBT is an evidence-based approach that is designed to be more engaging than other types of therapy. CBT addresses teens’ cognitive symptoms, which are their negative thinking patterns, and problematic behaviors that all contribute to fueling the disorder. Specifically for social media abuse, CBT targets the cognitive “distortions,” or misconceptions, that may develop. These include glamorizing the lives and bodies of others, while simultaneously minimizing their own positive attributes, as well as placing unnecessary emphasis on validation through social media. CBT teaches teens that these thinking patterns are illogical, and how to replace them with healthier, more positive thoughts. Additionally, CBT identifies negative behaviors, such as sacrificing healthy sleep for social media use, and teaches teens skills to overcome them. CBT is an active approach, requiring a teen’s participation and input.
If your teen is struggling from overuse of social media and symptoms of depression, it is crucial to find a therapist who utilizes the correct approach to your teen’s unique situation, at GroundWork in Orlando, we’re here to help. 

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