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Is your teen's social media habit healthy?

Main Line Health May 13, 2021 Child and Adolescent Health

If you have a teenager, it’s likely that social media plays a major role in their life. It’s not just a form of communication; it can be a barometer of social status, a record of daily events and an endless stream of entertainment. But how is social media impacting mental health?

“We are just beginning to understand exactly how social media affects our youth, and there is still a lot to learn,” explains Charles Wisniewski, DO, an adolescent psychiatrist at Main Line Health. “It’s not just the amount of time spent engaged in social media that’s important; it’s how the time is spent, the content they are exposed to and their mood prior to and after using it. It’s also important to understand why a teen is turning to social media in the first place.”

Dr. Wisniewski explains that social media is not regulated. With the use of algorithms, these sites and apps amplify certain paths of thinking. “It’s difficult for kids to see how they are being exploited by technology,” he says. “Artificial intelligence can understand and manipulate children’s psyche at a vulnerable time when their own identity is undergoing normal developmental changes.” 

Dr. Wisniewski works with teens ages 14-18 in Mirmont Treatment Center’s adolescent outpatient behavioral health program who are struggling with issues involving social media. Some may be addicted to social media or dealing with anxiety or depression. Others may be using social media as a coping method to avoid other emotional problems.

“Social media sites are designed to make ‘getting attention’ the goal—it’s how they make money. Like playing a slot machine, it’s the ‘what else’ mentality that makes it hard to quit,” says Dr. Wisniewski.
“Children and adolescents are highly susceptible to these processes given their brains have not fully matured and they have less ability to regulate impulses.”

Not all social media is bad. During increased isolation, especially due to the pandemic, it provides a way to connect with others. But it’s important to model appropriate usage. Follow these tips and encourage your teens to do the same: 

  • Be intentional. Have a purpose before going online. Avoid picking up a device just because you’re bored.
  • Set limits. Make specific times of the day off-limits, such as during mealtime. Keep electronics out of the bedroom.
  • Review your settings. Modify your device’s push notification settings so that you aren’t alerted (and tempted!) every time someone posts.
  • Get personal. Simply reading and “liking” posts is not real interaction and can become problematic when used to define one’s social status. Instead, send a private message to friends. Or better yet, text or call them. 

Mirmont Outpatient Centers in Broomall, Exton and Media provide treatment for mental health diagnoses and substance use disorders. Services include psychiatric evaluation and medication management, individual and group psychotherapy, an intensive outpatient program and a partial hospitalization program, with specialty services for adolescents and adults. Call us at 1.888.CARE.898 (227.3898) to schedule a confidential appointment and ask any questions. Or, use our secure online form to email us.