Does social media cause poor mental health, or does anxiety cause teens to immerse themselves in Twitter and TikTok?
Research indicates that it’s a bit of both. Studies in recent years draw strong connections between young adults and negative mental health, while evidence also points to teens with depression using social media to cope.
Regardless of how individuals develop excessive social media use habits, the impacts are similar: Loss of sleep, a sedentary lifestyle, lack of interpersonal relationships, and a higher likelihood of experiencing cyberbullying.
Aspen Counseling and Consulting therapist Nathan Whinnery, LCPC, has observed that excessive social media use has become a frequent indicator of other mental health concerns.
“The phone tends to be the default coping skill for younger individuals,” he said. “Scrolling through social media, watching YouTube, and playing games are what they do when there is downtime, they feel nervous or depressed.”
However, when a person recognizes the role screen time may play, it creates a breakthrough moment that allows other issues to be addressed.
“It’s a huge step for a client to realize that they have control over the technology we all use,” Whinnery said. “There may be initial fear of missing out on a part of life, but that over time is overcome by healthy connections and a balanced understanding of online habits.”
To maintain an appropriate level of digital technology use, individuals of all ages can watch for signs of isolation, getting too little sleep, avoiding interpersonal connections in favor of device time, and an inability to set devices aside during conversations.
If a conversation is needed with a friend or adolescent, the key is to talk about the individual’s general usage habits, not immediate restrictions. Positive reinforcement that acknowledges successes over time will likely enable long-lasting change.
For the individual wanting to change digital media habits, Whinnery recommends replacing the negative habit with something else. This could be more interpersonal activities, or it could mean more screen-free downtime reading books or enjoying nature.
As healthy coping skills are developed through counseling and life experience, teens will find themselves engaging more frequently in face-to-face interactions and real-world relationships. Plus, they will find it easier to self-regulate without the need of a device in their hands.
“It is important to be mindful of what we’re looking for in our digital lives,” Whinnery said. “Once we recognize that it tends to be a quick fix for interpersonal connection, meaning, and validation, it is much easier to experience those things in real life.”
If you or a loved one may need help, please call Rosecrance’s caring Access team at 888.928.5278.