October 3, 2023

Evidence shows that social media use is linked to an increase in depression and anxiety in adolescents and teenagers.

Abby Barlament MSW, LICSW


One reason is kids are connecting online rather than more deeply in person.

Plus, kids are now seeing, in real time, what their friends are doing and how they are left out of social gatherings while they’re sitting at home alone in their bedroom on a Friday night.  Years ago, if someone was left out of an activity, they did not find out about it until everyone was back at school on Monday and by then it was old news.

Children can also be bullied on social media which means the bullying continues 24/7, long after the school day ends.  

Social media can also lead to lower self-esteem in teen girls when they compare themselves to the perfect photos posted by friends, classmates and influencers. According to the Child Mind Institute, Instagram shows up in surveys as the platform that most leads young people to report feeling anxiety, depression and worries about body image. Girls often use the term “insta-worthy” when choosing photos to post.  

Social media has negative effects on children’s emotional health, but managing kids’ social media use can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you navigate the world of social media.

  1. Is your child ready for social media? The minimum age to open a social media account on nearly every platform – TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat – is 13. As a parent or caregiver, you may choose to say no to social media accounts until your children are older and more mature. Be prepared because your teen may have big emotions about this. They may feel left out of the conversation that takes place online with their friends. Validate your child’s emotions and reaffirm your boundaries. This might sound like “I get it, you feel left out not having social media and it feels awful to not know what is going on with your friends. I understand this is really hard for you. AND I still am going to not allow social media at this time. It is OK if you feel mad about my decision.” Reassure your son or daughter that you are doing this out of love and concern.  
  2. Promote awareness of social media’s effects. Talk to your kids about how time spent scrolling through social media makes them feel. They might share feelings of loneliness, sadness, unworthiness and inadequacy. Remind them that their friends are only posting their best and most fun moments online. When social media is making them feel badly, empower them to turn it off and hide posts, people and accounts that bring them down. Encourage them to follow people and accounts that make them feel good. And make sure notifications are off to prevent constant distraction.
  3. Find balance. Encourage your kids to plan in-person activities to expand face-to-face connections. If this is intimidating to them, practice how to start this conversation and give them ideas on activities. Game and movie nights, crafts, coffee dates, bike rides, hikes, workouts, escape rooms, sports, joining youth groups, are all good options. These experiences build self-confidence, friendships and social skills.
  4. Make phone-free zones. Removing smartphones from the bedroom after bedtime and overnight is a good routine. A 5-minute check on TikTok or Instagram is rarely just 5 minutes. The Child and Mind Institute reports that on average, adolescents who look at their phones in the last hour before sleep get an hour less of sleep than their peers who aren’t on their phones before bed. For one, blue light from electronic screens messes with falling asleep. And checking social media can cause stress and anxiety. Set up a charging station in another room for your teenagers. Suggest reading before bed to distract them from missing their phones.
  5. Should you follow your kids on social media? Some parents will like, follow or be friends with their teens as a way to keep tabs on their social media platforms. Have the discussion about following your kids and set boundaries. It’s OK to follow your kids, but it’s best not to overshare when you comment on posts. While having access to monitor teens on social media is recommended, it’s not good to monitor them all the time. Also talk to your kids about social media challenges and trends that can be dangerous and even fatal.

Learn more

Mental Health America: Selfies, Social, and Screens: Navigating Virtual Spaces for Youth