HOW SOCIAL MEDIA IS IMPACTING YOUR TEEN AND WHAT YOU CAN DO
It’s hard enough being a teenager with your body changing and hormones running wild, then you throw in the pressure that comes with social media. It adds complexity to an already challenging time of life and it can have a serious impact on mental health, particularly anxiety.
For parents, this is also a challenging time. You are also learning to navigate how to deal with your teenager and their emotions. Here we look at the negative impact of social media on teenagers and some advice for how to deal with this as a parent.
Learning how to make friends and connect with people is a major part of growing up. It’s not just making new friends that require's skills, we also need to learn what it takes to maintain friendships and deal with conflict. Creating relationships indirectly through social media means that teens are not learning how to face problems and relationship challenges face to face.
When friendships are conducted online and through text messages, they are stripped of many of the personal and sometimes intimidating aspects of communication. You aren’t hearing or seeing the impact your words are having on the other person. And it’s not happening in real time, we have time to consider responses when communicating indirectly.
It’s no wonder that I often hear my teenage patients saying that calling someone on the phone is “too intense”. That’s because it requires direct communication - something teens are not used to. This creates anxious feelings as there’s nothing to hide behind when you’re speaking face to face or on the phone.
All this indirect communication means that it has become easier to be mean to people. This is because it’s easier to send a cruel message as a text or via social media than it is to say it to someone’s face. There are things that are sent on text messages that teenagers (or adults for that matter) would never even dream of saying to someone’s face but because they don’t have to deal with a direct response, they can send some pretty horrible things.
It’s important for teens to learn that it’s ok to disagree but unfortunately, social media is teaching them to disagree in ways that have a negative impact on relationships. Aggression like this usually comes from insecurity and wanting to put other people down so you feel better.
Girls, in particular, are at risk of imposter syndrome, where they have a consistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. This is because teenagers are socialised to compare themselves to other people in terms of physical appearance and achievements.
Peer acceptance is a big thing for teenagers and with ‘likes’ on social media, it’s like there is a measure of popularity for every single post. So teens spend hours working on their online identity to project an idealised image. They agonise about which photos to post.
This is not new behaviour for adolescents, it’s just that social media gives them more opportunities to do it. Before social media, when teens got home from school, they got a break from the pressures of seeing what everyone else was doing and comparing themselves to their peers. Now there is a constant feed to scroll through where they can see what their peers are up to and what they are missing out on. It’s not just their friends, it’s also celebrities and influencers who have been photoshopped to look amazing.
So what can you do as the parent of a teenager?
1. Keep an open dialogue
Keeping an open dialogue with your teen is important so that they can come to you when they are having any challenges, either online or in real life. Create opportunities to connect through finding environments where your teen is more likely to talk with you about their emotional experiences. Some ideas might be to talk over dinner, while out at the shops or go to a cafe together. Or it could be while you’re driving your teenager to or from school sport.
2. Listen and validate
When you find these precious opportunities to connect, the critical thing is to simply listen. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? This is actually quite challenging because as a parent, you want to leap straight into fixing. What your teen needs is for you to listen without judgment and without launching into problem-solving. If you leap straight into fixing, the walls come up.
The key is not just to listen but to actively validate their emotions. Teenage years are filled with deep insecurity. So connecting at a deep level by listening and validating emotions is critical to helping them feel secure. It sends the message that you are unconditionally there for them if and when they need you.
At the Sydney Anxiety Clinic, I often work closely with parents to help them with validating the emotions of their teens. Validating emotions is about reflecting and naming the emotions that we hear and see. It might be, ‘I can see that you are angry’ or ‘it sounds like you’re worried’. Or you could ask your teen a question about how they feel to identify the emotions behind their experience.
So you start to view your teenager’s emotions not as the enemy but as opportunities to connect. When you accept and acknowledge your teen’s feelings, the walls start coming down, the door starts to crack open and the questions start to be asked. This becomes the opportunity to engage in problem-solving with your teenager. Not with conflict or enforcement but with an invitation.
The wonderful thing is that it is not just about the verbal messages – it is about the unwritten messages, the deep and powerful messages of ‘I’m here for you, your feelings matter, and your opinions matter but it is still my job to keep you safe and to share my wisdom’.
Contact the Sydney Anxiety Clinic to book an appointment for you and your teenager today.