How does social media affect teens? You'll find the answer to be more complex than you expected.

Thanks to social networks like Facebook, it's easier than ever to talk about their day, make plans, and catch up on what's going on in their social circle.

But one question that we must ask is "What is the cost?"

How Does Social Media Affect Teens?

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​Social media may very well be a double-edged sword for your teen. And just like most things, there are goods and bads to explore.

So, how does social media affect teens in a negative way? Do the positives of social media use outweigh the negatives?

The Positives of Social Media Use

​Like it or not, "screen time" is at an all-time high among teens. Whether they're on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the plethora of social media options for teenagers, our kids are spending an insane amount of time staring at their cell phones, tablets, and computers.

But don't worry -- this can be a good thing. So, how does social media affect teens in a positive way?

Stronger Bonds with Friends

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​Thanks to social media, making friends has never been easier. School can be a scary place -- and not everyone is good at putting themselves out there to build friendships.

That's where social media comes in.

A simple comment on a Facebook post can go a long way in helping your teen meet someone new. Also, they can discover common bonds with others they otherwise wouldn't know existed.

In fact, a study by Common Sense Media reveals that more than 50 percent of teens say social media improved their friendships, while only 4 percent say it has hurt them. Nearly 30 percent say that social media helps them to be more confident.

While none of those numbers are close to 100 percent, they're still pretty impressive in a world where it's hard to get teens to agree on anything at all.

Inspiring teens to do good in the world

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Have you ever wished your kids would find something they care about? Well, thanks to social media, you're in luck!

Social media exposes teens to a wealth of information. And exposure to information increases the amount they care. Thanks to platforms like Facebook, your teen may discover that they care a lot about pollution, preventing school shootings, or solving another problem facing society.

A UCLA study found in 2016 that 1 in 10 students planned to partake in protests in college. That is the highest rate since 1967.

Personal expression

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It's never been easier for teens to showcase their creativity. Whether they are posting their artwork on Instagram, uploading videos of their bands playing their favorite songs on YouTube, or just belting out their favorite tunes on Tik Tok, teens are sharing more of themselves with the world.

Even groups thought to be isolated loners -- gamers, "geeks," and "nerds" -- are finding common ground with others through their social media posts. In fact, teens can now express their love of video games via streaming platforms like Twitch, which allow them to talk to and interact with people while they do what they love.

So whether your teen is playing Fortnite in front of an audience of hundreds or simply showing off their latest drawing, social media helps encourage creativity and expression.

​Support system

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Whether you like it or not, your teen might have issues coming to you with their problems. Our kids have many problems we may never know about or fully understand.

Nowadays, support forums exist for virtually anything. So whether your teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, or even drug addiction, they are able to find peers with whom they can discuss their problems.

One notable example is when a teen posted his goodbyes to a Reddit Minecraft community. The community talked him out of suicide and convinced him to get help.

"I obviously wasn't cured or freed from all the thoughts I have in one night, but the people, their overwhelming support, they opened my eyes; showed me that some people really do care, no matter how it may seem," the teen later said, adding in another post that he would be getting professional help.

And that's help he would not have sought out were it not for people on social media showing they cared.

How Does Social Media Affect Teens in a Negative Way?

​​We've seen some of the ways social media can do some good for teens. But how does social media affect teens negatively?

Cyberbullying

​Your teens deal with bullies everywhere else, and social media is no different. Just like social media makes it easier to make friends, it also gives bullies a platform. In fact, bullying is easier than ever -- and the results can be catastrophic.

The website Ask.fm, for instance, was connected to a rash of suicides in 2013. This website allowed users to ask questions anonymously -- and answer them anonymously.

Teens experience bullying on social media that goes far beyond what they would encounter in their everyday lives. And many listened when their sincere questions and problems were met with suggestions like "kill yourself" and other abuse.

It's bullying teens to the level they would not have typically encountered. And some of them may be alive today. And in some cases, their online life led to real-life stalking and harassment.

That is but a single example of cyberbullying, but it can happen everywhere, despite the platforms' efforts to decrease the attacks.

Between 2006 and 2014, about 25 percent of teens said they have encountered cyberbullying.

Sexting

If you're worried your teen may be sending inappropriate photos to others, you're right. According to JAMA Pediatrics, a terrifying 1 in 7 teens in a study of 110,000 -- that's more than 15,000 in a single study -- participated in "sexting."

While teen sex is on the decline, that doesn't mean your worries are over. They've just shifted.

And whether your teen is male or female makes no difference. While males are often portrayed as the requesters and females the senders, CBS News reports that this is not the case. Both males and females participate equally.

Sleep deprivation

If you thought it was hard to get teens to go to bed before social media, then today's social media-heavy world is a nightmare scenario in that regard.

We've all been there: you start scrolling through your Facebook news feed and before you know it it's 3 a.m. That's a problem many adults and teens experience.

According to PBS, more than half of teens aged 17 to 18 years old slept less than 7 hours per night -- less than the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep recommended for them.

And spending 5 or more hours online increases the risk of less sleep in teens by more than 50 percent. Spending 3 hours a day online increases the risk by 20 percent.

Most teens keep their smartphones within arm's reach while they are sleeping. And scrolling through social media before bed can lead to disturbed sleep cycles.

A 2014 study revealed that at least 80 percent of teens use their phone when they should be sleeping. Many admitted to staying up most of the night.

​​​Poor concentration and lethargy

When teens use social media, they are spending time on that instead of other activities. That leads to an avoidance of activities which could teach them new things or help them learn new skills. They might have fewer hobbies that don't involve a screen.

And that's not all:

Social media also serves as a distraction from schoolwork and studying. While multitasking can be a good thing, stopping to check messages from friends while one is supposed to be reading Orwell's "1984" can detract from the ability to fully grasp the plot.

​​​It's All About Moderation

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Let's face it: Most parents don't check what websites their kids are visiting as well as they should be. Nor do they monitor their teens' social media use as diligently as experts recommend.

Social media can be a great way for teens to make friends, find support, and express themselves. But at the same time, it can create or exacerbate problems.

Ultimately, the answer to "How does social media affect teens?" depends on both your teens themselves and your efforts to make sure it's a positive experience for them.

Do you have any thoughts? Got any tips or tricks on ensuring that social media use is a positive experience? Please feel free to sound off in the comments below.

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