At first glance, social media seems fairly harmless. You try to prevent your children from being the target of bullying, limit their online time to socially acceptable hours, and do your best to give them the tools they need to protect themselves online, then let them go with minimal monitoring. Unfortunately, social media holds a hidden danger that many parents don’t realize: it can cause depression in both male and female adolescents (and even adults).
When people post on social media, they tend to post either their best or their worst–and it’s the best that’s shown the most clearly. Teens, in particular, are prone to showing off. The selfie that gets posted isn’t the one where their posture is imperfect, their shirt is off-center, and their makeup is smudged. Instead, it’s the one that looks stunningly perfect. Many girls will go to extraordinary efforts to pull off that “perfect” look. Then there are the gifts, the “humble brag” posts, and even the put-down posts that are perfect little snapshots of the best moments of someone else’s day, week, or year.
Constant exposure to little slices of the best from other people is enough to make anyone a little crazy–and for some teens, it’s depression waiting to happen. While they logically know that the pictures and statuses posted on social media are the “best,” many teens compare that best to their everyday lives–and can possibly find themselves “wanting more” as a result.
The Need for More
Mimetic desire is defined as the act of wanting something simply because someone else has it. On social media, this behavior is often taken to the extreme. Entire groups are formed based on the need to collect all of a certain item, the desire to have the latest and greatest of whatever the group as a whole is interested in. If your teen is part of any of these groups, take a close look at their spending behavior, because those groups can drive many people to become obsessive collectors of items that, before the rise of social media, they would never have known existed. Even worse, when your teen is unable to have the items that they’ve come to desire, it may increase symptoms of depression.
Increased Usage = Increased Depression
Whatever the reason, increased social media usage–especially heavy usage, defined as at least 60 minutes per day or 30 visits per week–has been linked to higher levels of depression. Gender doesn’t matter, nor does age: the more often an individual uses social media, the more likely they are to experience depression. As a parent, that’s worrisome, especially if you feel that your child is living with their smartphone or other device in their hand. Taking it away feels like a desperate measure–so what can you do instead?
Look for other activities to fill the time. It’s easy to go onto social media sites for “just a minute” when you’re bored and don’t have anything else to do. Teens who are engaged and active in other activities, however, will be less likely to check in on social media as frequently.
What can parents do?
Encourage real-life hangouts with friends. Teens are less likely to feel that they “need” social interaction online when they spend time with their friends in person.
Limit hours spent with technology. Use a trustworthy mobile parental control that makes it easy to give your children or teenagers a break at different times during times throughout the day. Great times to decide ahead of time would be at bedtime, family meals or when it is time for homework.
As a parent, it’s critical that you watch for signs of depression or stress in your children. These days parenting without screens entirely is not realistic, instead it makes much more sense to teach our children and it is not too late to teach our teenagers how to use technology responsibly. All it takes is time and a plan!
Start by working as family to give your entire family a healthy dose of time away from the screen and always remember it is crucial when giving your children access to the internet is us up to you to keep them safe from dangerous content and apps on their mobile devices. Communication, careful and regular monitoring and a break is sometimes all it takes to keep our families happy, healthy and content. If your child or teen is still exhibiting signs of social media depression or stress please make sure to visit a qualified physician or psychiatrist as soon as possible.
Also published on Medium.