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06-12 When a teenager’s love of social media goes too far

When a teenager’s love of social media goes too far
Bullying, clique-forming and sexual experimentation are not new to the teenage landscape. However, an increase in Internet and social media use has created online expressions of these real world behaviors. These online trends have evolved into detrimental behaviors like cyberbullying, privacy issues and sexting. Social media addiction is a serious problem affecting pre-teens and teenagers, causing neurological implications, psychological disturbances and social problems.

Social media is considered any website or app that incorporates social interaction — it is not limited to Facebook, Instagram and similar sites. Gaming sites, virtual reality sites such as “The Sims” and video sites like YouTube also fall under this umbrella.

The amount of teenagers with cell phones has increased dramatically in the past decade.  Approximately 78 percent of all teenagers ages 12 to 17 in the United States own a cell phone, 47 percent of which own smartphones. Naturally, this means that an increased amount of the social and emotional development of teenagers is occurring on the Internet and, more specifically, using cell phones. For this reason, parents need to be aware of the nature of the websites their children frequent, as there is a significant amount of unhealthy content accessible by pre-teens and teenagers today. Sexting, catfishing and the easy-to-access, inappropriate content at teenagers’ fingertips can all have adverse effects on their development and well-being.

A recent poll stated that 22 percent of teenagers log into their favorite social media site over 10 times per day and more than 50 percent of teenagers log onto a social media site more than once a day. With such large portions of their days consumed with social media and the natural lack of self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure that comes with their age, teenagers are at risk of learning and developing harmful coping skills as a direct result of their access to the Internet and social media.

The typical hardships faced by teenagers have been magnified with cyberbullying and “Facebook depression” issues that have surfaced as a result of increased social media and Internet use. This means teenagers are more likely to turn to harmful sites or online forums that claim to provide a haven but really promote substance abuse, unsafe sex, or self-destructive behavior in an attempt to alleviate feelings of isolation and depression. “Facebook depression” is not a recognized mental health disorder, however, it is defined as depression that develops when pre-teens and teenagers spend a large amount of time on a social media site and exhibit classic signs of depression as a result.

Online forums and communities that teenagers turn to can pose a potentially life-threatening risk to teenagers today as these types of communities often encourage destructive behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Although these digital platforms create a false sense of trust, the reality is that teenagers never truly know who is on the other end of the keyboard. The people they might be opening up to and trusting with their problems might not have their best interests in mind.

Forums can also be a breeding ground for people who “catfish.” Catfishing is the act of assuming an alternate identity on the internet in an attempt to deceive others online. This can be dangerous if a teenager is on a forum seeking advice and, even more seriously, if the teen is chatting with a  sexual predator. Not all individuals guilty of catfishing have malicious intent, but it is a common tactic employed by sexual predators and criminals.

There are, however, some benefits of teenagers using social media. These benefits include socialization and learning communication skills, enhanced learning opportunities and free access to health information that might otherwise not be available and/or confidential (e.g. information on sexually transmitted diseases). This is why it is difficult to know when a teenager’s use of social media and/or the Internet is harmful or helpful to his development. Likewise, it is difficult to determine if the symptoms a teenager is exhibiting are the result of social media addiction or other mental health issues. The teen’s problem would be characterized as social media addiction if the symptoms he expresses are directly related to large amounts of social media usage.

If your teen is exhibiting signs of social media addiction, there is help available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego provides treatment for teenagers struggling with mental health, substance abuse and co-occurring conditions. Please call our 24-hour helpline at (866) 615-7266 to get help today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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