How does social media affect teens?

Social media plays a large role in the lives of many teens, and more and more parents are concerned about how social media affects teens’ mental health. Studies show that excessive use of social media can have a negative effect on teens’ mental health including suicidal ideation, eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, depression and other related issues. 

How are teens using social media?

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than 90% of teens are active on the Internet every day. This includes 71% of teens who check YouTube at least once a day. About 50% of teens surveyed also reported checking TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram at least once a day. 

Some teens go so far as calling their own social media use as “almost constant.” For example, about one third of teens reported using at least one of these apps – YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook – “almost constantly.” 

Understandably, parents may be concerned about their kids being addicted to social media platforms.

Read more about social media addiction statistics.

Possible negative social media effects on teens

While teens may think social media is a fun way to engage with their social circle, studies show it can also have many harmful impacts. Some potential negative effects of social media for teenagers include:

  • Increased mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and body image issues
  • Increased chances of developing health issues, such as obesity and eating disorders 
  • Increased chances of risky behavior after viewing similar behavior 
  • Extreme acts of self-harm, which may escalate to suicide 
  • Contact with people who wish them harm, such as predators and scammers.
  • Cyberbullying and other online harassment, which may be more likely the younger the user is

Some of these risks have been known to social media companies for years. For example, a 2021 leak of Meta research showed internal research linking Instagram to decreased well-being for girls.

Read more about the dangers of social media for young people.

Why do social media platforms affect teens the way they do?

As children start to become teens, their brains undergo a shift that can cause them to seek more social interaction and recognition. While adults also seek out these things, other developmental milestones mean that older people have a less extreme reaction than children.

Another potential reason for the effects of social media on teens is the way the apps and platforms are designed. Algorithms and other app design choices use kids’ natural psychological and social responses to encourage continued engagement, making it hard for teens to put down their phones. “Likes” and other positive engagement can also be highly rewarding for teens’ brains.

What parents can do for their teens

Fortunately, parents can take steps to help protect their children on social media. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), parents looking to help their children can:

  • Have open-ended talks with their kids about being more intentional in their use of using social media rather than flatly limiting screen time 
  • Lead by example by engaging in healthy behaviors on social media apps 
  • Remove tablets and phones from bedrooms to decrease access to apps at night 
  • Encourage offline activities their kids enjoy 

Some families and young adults have also been filing lawsuits against social media platforms for the mental health harms they’ve experienced. Motley Rice is proud to stand with these families, as we have a long history of seeking justice from technology and social media companies for the harms they’ve caused.

Learn more about social media lawsuits.