Teen Anxiety and Depression: Is Social Media to Blame?

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Teen Anxiety and Depression: Is Social Media to Blame?

teen social media, teen anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression among teens is skyrocketing. Since 2011, studies have shown a consistent spike in mood disorders in adolescents that correlates with the popularity of social media.

It’s enough to make you want to lock your teen’s phone in a drawer until they’re 21 years old.

But is social media really to blame for your teen’s anxiety or depression? The answer is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no. Correlation is not the same as causation. 

The truth is, social media is changing faster than we can understand or study it. The research is unclear, and studies continue to return conflicting findings.

The Effects of Social Media on Your Teen 

Social media isn’t inherently evil. Only you can truly determine the effects of social media on your own teen. 

These questions can help you assess whether social media could be hurting your teen:

  • Does your teen appear to be more irritable or emotionally volatile than normal after spending time on social media?
  • Is your teen showing signs of being bullied — or bullying others?
  • Have other priorities — homework, sports or other extracurricular activities — taken a back seat to your teen’s social media usage?
  • Does your teen feel left out when they see parties or get-togethers that they haven’t been invited to join?
  • Has your teen’s self-esteem or body image taken a hit as a result of their social media activity?
  • Does your teen seem able to self-regulate their social media usage?

On the flip side, does social media appear to help your teen connect with peers in a positive way? Is it widening their social or academic circles?

Boundaries around social media have to be individualized. Taking a global stance and placing arbitrary restrictions on your teen’s use of social media doesn’t always make good parenting sense.

What Causes Teen Anxiety and Depression? 

If social media isn’t the clear culprit, what is contributing to the rise in teen mental health issues?

The teen years are often painted as idyllic, especially by parents who look back at their own “glory days” through a rose-colored filter. Pressures on today’s teens are multiplying and intensifying.

  • Academic stress — including homework and getting into the “right” college — top the list of teen stressors. And with the rising cost of a college education, many teens worry about the financial burden. Will their families be able to afford college? Will they have to take out huge student loans?
  • Bullying, peer pressure and romantic breakups can also contribute to teen anxiety and depression. Any change in social status can feel isolating to a teen, whose identity is closely intertwined with their peer groups.
  • Many teens worry about world events, politics, racism and climate change.
  • Any significant family or life change, like a move, a change in schools, parents’ divorce or remarriage, can be very unsettling to a teen. If there’s a traumatic event, the stakes become even higher.

Related: Teens and Transitions: How to Help You Adolescent Navigate Change

When Should a Parent Seek Help?

Stress is the body’s response to an outside pressure. Most of the time, stress is short-term, and disappears when the trigger is gone.

But too much stress — especially over a prolonged period of time — can lead to insomnia, poor concentration, anxiety and depression.

While stress can be managed, anxiety and depression need to be treated before they impact your teen’s ability to function in social, academic and work settings. If you notice symptoms of anxiety and depression, don’t wait too long to get them some help.

Parenting doesn't come with a handbook.

If you’re interested in learning more about adolescent psychotherapy, family counseling or parenting support, please contact us by submitting this form, or by phone at 847-729-3034. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

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