Common Themes to Social Media Use in Children

February 11, 2022

By Grace Lozano, Resident in Counseling

Healthy social media useIf I had a dime for every time I spoke with a concerned parent of an adolescent about social media, I wouldn’t have time to be a therapist because I’d have too many dimes to count!

While I wish I could say that I have finally cracked the social media code and discovered the perfect equation for social media usage for each age, genetic sequence, and personality type, what I can do is provide some insight that I’ve learned from my work with adolescents to highlight (both positive and negative) real-life experiences that today’s teens are having with social media.

Below are common themes that I’ve observed:

1) When provided the space to speak openly about the impacts of social media, adolescents are often able to insightfully identify the various impacts that social media has on them.

2) Adolescents who view social media as impacting them positively tend to use social media in the following ways:

  • To maintain positive friendships during the isolation of the pandemic and online schooling (rather than in the place of real-life connection).
  • To engage with content shared by others going through similar experiences.
  • To watch creative content, such as comedy, art creation, or dancing.
  • To create their own content that encourages them to tap into their creative side.
  • While implementing thoughtful boundaries around the content that they engage with.
  • With an internalized understanding that social media is a “highlight reel” that does not accurately depict real life.

3) Adolescents who view social media as impacting them negatively tend to use social media in the following ways:

  • In lieu of face-to-face connection, friendship, or activity.
  • With minimal boundaries, viewing all content, rather than focusing only on content that affects them positively.
  • As a mode of social comparison, without the internalized understanding that social media does not accurately reflect reality.
  • For the purpose of obtaining positive feedback from others (often resulting in unmet expectations, hits to self-esteem, and symptoms of anxiety and depression following social media engagement).
  • To communicate with strangers without adequate precautions, without an awareness of relationship red flags, or without a safe adult to assist them in navigating these relationships.
  • As a distraction and barrier to sleeping normal hours throughout the night.
  • As a platform that exposes them to online bullying and negative feedback from peers.

While these insights are purely observational, some common themes have become apparent. Adolescents who experience social media positively tend to have:

1) The ability to establish boundaries around the content and individuals that they engage with.
2) A secure base of real-life connections to depend on and help them navigate the online world.

Effectively, the best that we can do is facilitate and maintain open communication with our children regarding their use of social media, help our children learn how to establish healthy limits and boundaries around their use of social media, and exist as secure bases for them when they need our support.

I challenge you to initiate the conversation with your children without any agenda in mind, just to learn and understand.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately, and I wanted to hear about your experiences with it. How do you feel like it has impacted you?”

You may be surprised by what they say.

Until next time, Be Wise!