Psychologist, students discuss impact of social media on mental health

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Among the growing concern of social media’s negative influence on the mental wellness of teens in the media, some professionals and teenagers are emphasizing the positive impact on teens lives.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 97% of US teens use at least one of the seven major online platforms including Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. In addition, 95% of teens use smartphones, which has increase social media usage.

Wendy E. Phillips, a licensed clinical psychologist in Northbrook, specializes in working with high school students from the North Shore.

“Maybe in the media we hear a lot of negative things, but I think it is a mixed bag. There are some positive things to kids having access to social media,” said Phillips.

Phillips mentioned the ability to “enhance friendships and exchange ideas” as positives of social media. The Pew survey also found similar feelings among teens, where 81% of teens felt more connected to their friends due to social media.

Senior Bailey Pommer said social media “allows me to connect with people from different places that aren’t here.”

Social media, if used positively, can allow personal connections and let teens feel good about their amount of followers and the ‘likes’ on their posts.

“I think kids that are well adjusted, meaning they are not clinically depressed or anxious, and know how to kind of use social media to curate a positive image, probably feel pretty good about being online because they get positive feedback,” said Phillips

For those who are more vulnerable to being depressed or anxious, the negative impacts of social media can be an issue, especially when they are online for many hours.

“It is not necessarily that social media is to blame for kids maybe having some emotional issues. It is really the fact that kids who spend a lot of time on social media, tend to not sleep as much and exercise as much and then they are exposed more to the things that might be negative just by the virtue of being online,” Phillips said.

Research published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, a journal that specializes in teen health, echoed Phillips remarks. The research, using almost 10,000 interviews with teens, found that social media itself doesn’t cause harm but that frequent use disrupts positive impact activities such as sleeping and exercising.

Both Phillips and the research mentioned that cyber-bullying and negative news cycle exposure were the main concerns to those vulnerable.

For many students the biggest negative is the amount of time spent on social media which distracts them from their responsibilities.

Sophomore Ariana Kondos said, “I think that my time management has gotten worse because of my social media. I spend a lot of time on it which is a bad habit of mine.”

This distraction then leads to more stress and less sleep.

“Distraction leads to procrastination and then I get stressed doing my (school work),” said senior Brianna Karras

Phillips recommends supervision as well as approaches to limiting social media access.

“Supervision by parents is really important. I would not advocate for banning anything, but I would advocate doing some real common sense things,” Philips said.

Philips recommends strategies like using do not disturb or airplane mode on smartphones to prevent notifications. Using an app that tracks online usage can provide insight into one’s use—which often is surprises users with high numbers.

Lastly, Philips recommends to not use a phone as an alarm clock because it encourages immediate usage.

Despite these recommendations, teens in high school are not so keen on the idea of parents overseeing their social media use.

“I don’t think that parents should necessarily monitor social media use. I think it can be useful for kids to learn to manage something addictive by themselves. If it becomes too big of a problem then parents should step in,” said junior Ian Quan.

Senior Alia Birgé echoes these sentiments and feels the recent media emphasis on social media and mental health is overblown.

“Technology is not the source of all problems,” said Birgé.

Phillips recommends teens watch for signs that they or their friends are experiencing detrimental impacts from social media. Signs include a lack of interest in normal activities, feeling apathetic, lack of appetite or looking exhausted.

“I think those are signs of concerns, that may or may not be directly related to social media use, but ones that you would want to kind of investigate more,” said Philips.

 

There is always someone to talk to

If you feel you or a friend are at risk and need support, the following resources are available to help

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

 

NT Social Work: Winnetka – Room 225

Northfield – Room B230

Text NSHELP912 to 844-823-5323 for the social work office

More resources available at: 

https://www.newtrier.k12.il.us/socialwork/

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