Should There Be a Legal Age Limit for Social Media?
Though social media can help people stay in touch and find a sense of connection, there are also many downsides of this technology – especially for younger users. Multiple studies have identified a link between frequent social media use and worsening mental health. For example, these platforms may cause or worsen depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts. Teenagers can be particularly vulnerable to these issues because their brains and critical thinking skills are still developing.
How Does Social Media Affect Mental Well-Being?
Social media use is a naturally self-reinforcing feedback loop. Like slot machines, apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter work on a principle called intermittent reinforcement. Replies and likes represent periodic, unpredictable rewards that keep people coming back for more. However, the longer teens spend using social media, the more likely they’ll be to experience adverse effects like these.
1. An Unrealistic Self-Image
Many people share photos to gain more followers and likes. However, becoming an “influencer” requires users to carefully curate, crop and retouch their pictures, spending hours adjusting the lighting, filters and framing to ensure they only post idealized images.
Ample evidence shows social media platforms like Instagram are especially harmful for young girls, who may be more vulnerable to developing eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Even when people know the images they view are subject to heavy editing, they can still experience insecurities about their appearance or feel their lives are inadequate in comparison.
Ironically, heavy social media use increases feelings of isolation. Most mentally healthy people seek in-person companionship and face-to-face contact with friends and family members. Prioritizing social media interactions over real-world relationships can cause or exacerbate mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Spending too much time experiencing the world through a screen makes it harder for people to live in the moment and feel grateful for what they have.
Sometimes, teens from marginalized groups like the LGBTQ+ community can find much-needed support and educational resources online. Unfortunately, cyberbullies can lurk in the same spaces, taking advantage of anonymity to post offensive comments they would never say in person. The emotional effects of cyberbullying in adolescence can persist long into adulthood.
Social media companies use algorithms to determine content’s validity and placement. However, some people have figured out how to manipulate these rules to expose impressionable young adults to misinformation and hate speech. Platforms like YouTube are rife with hoaxes, far right-wing ideology and deliberate misinformation. Teenagers who spend a lot of time watching these videos and interacting on message boards will almost certainly encounter bigotry, racism and other harmful viewpoints.
Is Your Teenager at Risk?
National leaders have turned their attention to the potential problems of social media exposure for teens and adolescents. Currently, many social media platforms allow users as young as 13 to create accounts. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently suggested raising the age limit for social media use, saying the “skewed and distorted environment” does a disservice to children whose identities are still developing. Congress’ Joint Economic Committee has also studied this issue, recommending that families and communities take reasonable precautions in light of the potential risks.
If you have reasons to believe your teen’s mental health is suffering, R&A Therapeutic Partners can help with our therapeutic consulting, family counseling and other specialized services. Contact us today to learn more about customized outpatient treatment programs for your entire family.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.