Updated June 25, 2022
by Ronaldo Tumbokon
Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are godsends to kids and teens who want to get in touch and know what is going on with their friends or relatives. By just opening an app or a website, they can communicate with and learn about all the people who are important to them (at least those who are signed in to the same network).
Why is Social Media Bad for Kids?
But like many things that people are passionate about, there are detractors to social media use. When it comes to kids and teens, many studies argues that social media has bad effects on the kids’ minds – and the damage could be long-term and irrevocable. On the other hand, defenders are quick to point out that kids on social networking are increasing their social interaction while wiring their brains to adapt to new technology.
Bad Effects of Social Media on Kids and Teens
The one common bad effect of social media is addiction – the constant checking of Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media updates. Experts believe that knowing what’s going on with friends and what they are thinking or feeling can be addicting. Researchers at UCLA’s Brain Mapping Center has found that being appreciated in social media through “likes” was seen in brain scans to activate the reward centers of the brain. This reward circuitry is particularly sensitive during adolescence, and this may partly explain why teenagers are more into social media.
For kids and teens, knowing how many people like what they posted, how many followed (or unfollowed) them, and knowing what people say about them also leads to compulsive checking. This addiction to social media could disrupt other worthwhile activities like concentrating on schoolwork, reading or engaging in sports. The heaviest social media users admit to checking their social media feeds more than 100 times a day, sometimes even during school.
Bad effects of social networking to kids and teens, according to psychologists or suggested by scientific studies, are as follows:
- A 2015 U.K. Office for National Statistics finds that children who spend more than 3 hours each school day on social media sites are more than twice as likely to suffer poor mental health. Their immersion in a virtual world may cause these children to experience delay in their emotional and social development. According to the report, social media are potentially “a source of social comparison, cyber bullying and isolation”, which could lead to mental health problems.
- A report published by IZA Institute of Labor Economics even suggests that just one hour a day on social media can make a teen miserable. The study also theorized that this may be caused by issues of cyberbullying, an increase in social comparisons, and a decrease in real-life, face-to-face activities.
- Another 2015 study by the British Psychological Society finds that teenagers being obligated to be responsive to social media (liking posts, answering texts and direct messages) throughout the day affect their mental health.
- A University of Michigan study seem to indicate that in young adults, Facebook use leads to decline in subjective well-being. The more young adults use Facebook, the worse they feel moment-to-moment and the less they feel satisfied with their lives overall.
- A 2021 Wall Street Journal article revealed that Facebook’s own research shows that Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) is toxic for teen girls. In one in 3 teen girls, the social media makes their body image issues worse, and despite knowing that what they are seeing is bad for their mental health, they are unable to stop using it. Worse, 6% of suicidal American girls blames Instagram for wanting to kill themselves. (This, however, was disputed by Facebook.)
- Teens, especially girls, are sensitive to social influence, and this peer sensitivity can lead them to obsessive thinking about body image, status, and popularity.
- DoSometing.org, “one of the largest organizations for young people and social change”, lists several bad effects of social media, which includes sleep disorder, depression, addiction, 24/7 stress, isolation, insecurity, and fear of missing out (FOMO).
- FOMO or the fear of missing out on something important (like their friends’ jokes, parties, activities and other ways of having fun) leads to depression and anxiety in teen social media users, according to a survey done by the Australian Psychological Society. FOMO is one of the main reasons for teenagers’ heavy use of social media.
- A 2019 study from the University of Montreal has found that among various types of screen time including playing video games, social media is more linked to depressive symptoms in teenagers. This is because in platforms popular to teens, especially Instagram, teens are likely to compare their lives to idealized images in their feed, and promote upward social comparison. Oftentimes, this makes them feel inadequate and bad about themselves.
- Instagram, specifically may be bad for teen girls because it leads to more comparisons between them and others. These comparisons may not even be based on reality because Instagram images are subjected to filters, makeup, lighting, angles and other manipulations. Also, functional MRIs show that “likes” affect the reward circuit part of the brain, and associates the image with being better. Instagram is said to attract girls more than boys.
- Among social media, Instagram was found to be the worst for teens’ mental health, according to a survey. Instagram, along with Snapchat, are said to be very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.
- Also, Instagram and Snapchat use was found to produce problematic digital behaviors in children younger than 11. They are likely to have online-only friends, visit sites parents would disapprove of, and take part in online harassment.
- Screen relationships detract from spending time in real life relationships and developing social skills. According to Patricia Greenfield, professor of psychology in the UCLA College, the implications of her research is that when people use digital media for social interaction, they’re spending less time developing social skills and learning to read nonverbal cues. “Social interaction is needed to develop skills in understanding the emotions of other people.”
- The results of a survey from the University of Glasgow shows that social media use particularly at night, with strong emotional involvement, led to poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of anxiety. This can be a problem since teens with low self-esteem grow up as depressed adults, according to previous studies.
- Social media are fertile grounds for bad influencers and anonymous venoms and hunting grounds for deviants and other predators.
- Social media also have a number of celebrity “influencers” who are actually paid to promote products, events, and services. Teens may have a hard time distinguishing between what is actually promotional advertising and fake information, and what is authentic.
- For kids who crave attention, Facebook and other social media becomes a venue for them to act out. These kids may make inappropriate statements, pictures and videos that could ultimately harm them. Also, posts and materials that are published online tend to be permanent and may haunt them in the future.
- Young people who have a history of harming themselves or attempting suicide might be particularly vulnerable to negative messages posted online, new research shows. The 2017 review, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that kids and young adults who have thoughts of self-harm or suicide actually spend more time on the Internet and are more often victims of cyberbullying than their peers who do not have such thoughts.
- A number of studies, including that from the San Diego State University suggests that more screen time and social media may have caused a rise in depression and suicide among American adolescents. The study also found that people who spend less time looking at screens and more time having face-to-face social interactions are less likely to be depressive or suicidal.
- Some kids realize that spending a lot of time in social media results in wasted time, and this negatively affects their mood
- Selfies, which became popular with the rise of camera phones, can trigger mental health conditions when a person becomes obsessed with looks. The Mirror, for example, recently featured a selfie addict who tried to kill himself when he couldn’t take a perfect photo. According to Pamela Rutledge in Psychology Today, “Preoccupation with selfies can be a visible indicator of a young person with a lack of confidence or sense of self that might make him or her a victim of other problems as well. Excessive and increasingly provocative selfie-ing is a form of ‘acting out,’ a common behavioral pattern to get attention.”
- Educators also note that for kids and teens in social networks, there are no spelling and grammar rules. In fact it is cool to misspell and not make sense. Less sophisticated children will find it hard to differentiate between social networking communication and real world communication. In fact many teachers are complaining that social networking communication with misspellings and lack of grammar are seeping through student’s school writings.
- Social media habits are also blamed for lack of sleep and sleep problems in teenagers. Bright light emitted from smart phones and tablets are thought to disrupt sleep cycles. For young people sleep is important for learning, the development of the young brain, as well as for growing and staying healthy.
- A study published in the medical journal JAMA suggests that the more teens check social media and stream video, the more likely they might develop symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, which causes shorter attention span, or distractibility.
- Baroness Susan Greenfield , a top neuroscientist of the Oxford University warns about the lifelong effects of too much social networking. Facebook and other social media sites “are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a short attention span and live for the moment”. There is hardly any concentration skills required in participating in these social media sites, and these train the brain to have poor attention span.
- Kids are detracted from learning to communicate in the real world. There are reports from teachers that social networking is affecting kids’ comprehension levels. Also, if kids communicate primarily through the screen they do not learn the subtleties of real life communication – such as body language, tone of voice, and subconsciously sensing the molecules that other people release.
- Social media sites make kids more self-centered. Since Instagram and other sites give kids their own page which is about them, it leads some vulnerable kids to think that everything revolves around them, a precursor for emotional problems in their later life. This might also result in inability to empathize.
- These sites make kids prone to sensationalism.
- A study by a team of economists at the University of Sheffield, shows that the more time children spend chatting on Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram, the less happy they feel about their school work, the school they attend, their appearance, their family and their life overall. Children see their friends portraying themselves in idealized state when they post in social media. A vulnerable teen may suffer from depression when he reads great things happening to his friends, and his life is not so great in comparison. This effect was found to be worse for those who lack self-confidence. However, the study also found that teens in social media feel happier about their friendships.
- Pediatricians observe that some teens suffer from “Facebook depression”. After spending a lot of time on Facebook and other popular social networking sites, some teens become anxious and moody. Again, this seems to be caused by being exposed to friends whose idealized presentation of their lives appear to be superior to theirs. Teens who experience “Facebook depression” usually have trouble with social interactions in general, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
- In 2021, young TikTok users were found to develop tics and having tic-like attacks. This movement disorder may have brought on by stress and anxiety, probably made worse by their excessive social media consumption, as well as the COVID pandemic.
- When children are involved in extracurricular activities, they’re more likely to feel happier and healthier than their counterparts who are glued to a screen, a study finds (assuming they enjoy the sports)
Good Effects of Social Media on Kids and Teens
On the other hand, other experts like the MacArthur Foundation see it differently. They claim that kids and teens are developing important technical and social skills online in ways that adults do not understand or value. It makes your child’s life interesting as it expands his awareness about other people’s thoughts and feelings. It connects him with personalities and influencers whom he can learn from:
- Mizuko Ito of the University of California states that “spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age”. Kids are learning basic social and technical skills to fully participate in modern society. Kids learn to adapt to permanent and public socializing and managing elaborate network of friends and acquaintances.
- Social networking makes kids more peer-based. Young people are motivated to learn from their peers online. They interact and receive feedback from one another. They are motivated to learn more from each other than from adults. Teachers and adults are no longer the only sources of knowledge.
- It makes kids more networked than ever. It is easier for kids to make friends with people all over the world, most of whom they will never ever meet without these technological advances.
- Kids communicate and interact more than ever.
- Social media makes it far easier to connect with long lost friends and relatives, as well as new-found friends. Also, because of the hectic pace of the modern age, it’s harder to see people in person or reach via the phone. Social media is a great alternative way to always be connected.
- Social networks actually make kids more relationship-oriented, considerate, and emphatic. Kids remember people’s birthday and greet them. They comment on pictures, videos and status of their friends. They create longer term friendships by being in touch online even when friends are no longer physically meeting.
- Some psychologists, in fact, are encouraging children with anxiety and depression to use Instagram and Snapchat to build relationships with peers,according to this article.
- Kids and teens have a way to share with friends achievements they can be proud of, and perhaps inspire and motivate other kids.
- Professor Larry Rosen notes that teens are developing the ability to show virtual empathy for distressed Facebook friends and that the empathy is actually well-received by friends, positively influencing their mood. This virtual empathy, he says, can even spill over into the real world, teaching teens how to empathize with others in everyday life.
- Kids can exercise their creativity by using a social app like TikTok where they can create videos, usually by lip-synching or dancing along with popular songs. TikTok’s editing features enable kids to create and edit professional-looking videos.
- The British Medical Journal disagrees with Susan Greenfield’s claim that prolonged computer use can trigger “autistic-like traits” and aggression, and that her claims are not backed by scientific data. Instead, social networking “has been found to enhance existing friendships and the quality of relationships, although some individuals benefit more than others.”
- Lastly, a 2019 study involving 12,000 UK adolescents suggests that there is just a tiny effect on teenage life satisfaction among those who use social media more than average.
How Parents Can Make the Most of Kids’ Use of Social Media
- Educate your child about the risks of social media and explain to him how it can be harmful as well as helpful. Teach your child about the danger of “oversharing”, for example.
- Encourage your child to spend more time – considerably more time – in actual communication than “social networking communication”.
- Tell your child to spend more time in real-life friendships and activities – Real face-to-face interaction is deeper and warmer than online friendships. Your child learn more social skills in relating to and having face-to-face communication with his friends. Online friendships does not teach your kid to listen to subtle vocal cues, interpret body language, and adapt to different personalities – skills that are often important to survive in the real world.
- Encourage your child’s other passion or interest – Instead of constantly telling your kid to stop going online, discover his other interests and nurture them. Examples of these are sports, playing a musical instrument, writing, crafts, etc. Schedule these real life activities for him, or support him when he is engaged on non-online activities that he is passionate about.
- Suggest to your child to take advantage of social media to enhance learning, to collaborate with fellow students, not just for “hanging out” and spewing nonsense. Teach your child to differentiate between what has substance, and what is mere trash. You should also warn him not to engage in the darker side of social networking like cyberbullying, stalking, sharing inappropriate materials, etc.
- If possible, supervise your child’s online activity to protect him from online predators and other dangers – Do not be deceived that your child is online because of school research and studying. You should be constantly aware of what your child does online or what he does in front of the computer.
- Help your child understand what is going on with her feed. Check with her who she is following, and how the account she is following Is making her feel. Be specifically concerned if these accounts are posting content that are influencing falsehoods, half-truths, unhealthy thoughts and behavior. On the other hand, approve and react positively when she is following people and accounts that has positive effects and motivate her to be better and have a growth mindset.
- If your child feels anxious about how her friends seem to be living a better life than her, remind her that the images and postings of her friends are curated, and does not represent the whole story of her friends’ life, and they are probably just sharing the best parts. Tell your child to spend less time scrolling her feed if it makes her unhappy
- Join the social media that your child belongs to so you will have a sense of how they work and understand the impact they can have on your child. Also if possible, follow your child so you are aware of her activities online.
- When you join your child’s social network, just lurk or be a silent, watchful friend. You may like but avoid or refrain from commenting as this may turn her and her online friends off.
- Emphasize to your child the difference between real-life and online relationships – Having 500 friends in Facebook, for example, does not necessarily mean that he is popular.
- At an age when your child can easily fall prey to bad online influences, have the computer screen readily visible to you by putting the computer in a place where you regularly pass by. Do not position it on a hidden corner or angle.
- If your child seems upset after looking at her phone or device, ask her about it. A CNN study shows that if parents are involved with their children’s social media activities, their children are less likely to be upset with what happens to them online.
- Emphasize to your child the difference between writing and spelling for social networking and real world writing.
- As in everything, use social media in moderation. It cannot take the place of real-life relationships and other worthwhile pursuits like reading books and sports.
- Limit the time that your child has access to her screens or social media. Ask her to leave her phone on a location visible to you at the time she does homework and when she is supposed to be sleeping at night.
- Take advantage of apps that help you limit your child’s social media time or trace his online activity. Look into your child’s social media settings to see if there’s a way to limit the social media’s data collection about your child.