Anxiety among young adults seems to be increasing. Research shows that there may be a correlation to increased levels of anxiety in young people and social media exposure.
A 2012 study by the Psychology Department at Michigan State University found a link between social media use and symptoms of social anxiety and depression in college students. The study monitored more than 300 undergraduate students’ social media usage, including the use of instant messaging, email, and the Internet. The students who multitasked, (meaning they used a variety of social media platforms at the same time) showed higher rates of depression and anxious feelings.
Anxiety About Being Misinterpreted or Disliked
Generally speaking, teenagers feel a certain amount of anxiety from the possibility of being misinterpreted or disliked. Counting how many “likes” you have on social media or feeling like you’re missing out (FOMO) can cause teens to overanalyze what they say and how they say it, to the degree that they develop anxiety over any social media use. Kids today are actually polling data as to how much people like them or their appearance on mediums such as Instagram or by the number of Facebook “likes” they receive. They can spend hours tweaking and shaping their online personas, trying to create and maintain the perfect image. Teenagers have always been more cognizant of their appearances, but with the emergence of social media, they are faced with more opportunities to become fixated on image than ever before. It becomes an issue when their virtual profile doesn’t represent or match the person that they feel like on the inside. The more parts of the identity that exist on the exterior to maintain and keep up, and the more time they spend pretending to be someone they aren’t, the harder it’s going to be to feel good about who they truly are.
The rampant availability of technology has made social media platforms accessible to young adults, starting as young as toddler-aged. But, at the same time, your teenager’s use of technology – because of their cognitive abilities – impacts them more significantly than it would a toddler. In fact, experts are concerned that social media and the steady stream of text messages that have become so integral to the life of a teenager, are promoting an increase in anxiety, and a lowering of self-esteem in the young people who use them the most.
Teenagers are experts at finding ways to occupy every second of their free time, which now includes texting, sharing, posting, scrolling, etc., but mostly communicating virtually, instead of in-person as teenagers used to do. This causes them to miss out on learning vital social skills, including not being able to see or understand others’ body language, facial expressions, or even voice reactions. This can certainly cause a barrier to making and maintaining friendships, and even take a toll on self-esteem. Part of a healthy self-esteem is being able to say what you think and feel even when your friends don’t necessarily agree or it feels emotionally uncertain. And when friendships are maintained mostly online and through texts, kids are missing out on the most personal aspects and skills of communication. It’s easier for them to keep their guard up when they’re texting because less is at stake, and communicating via text means that each party can take more time to consider a response – it’s not interaction in real time as face-to-face interactions are. Direct communication, as a result, becomes more intimidating and scary.
Another prevalent issue that comes from young adults communicating through social media is that it has gotten easier and more tolerated to be cruel to other kids. In fact, experts say that social media platforms actually teach adolescents, particularly girls, to disagree with each other in ways that are more extreme, even if it jeopardizes their relationships with others. This type of relational aggression, even if it is through social media, is a sign of insecurity and low self-esteem with the intention to put other people down so teens can feel better about themselves.
Teens who are constantly connected via social media certainly are aware when the connectivity abruptly ends and they’re being ignored. When they’re waiting on a response that just doesn’t come, that can make the teen feel intense feelings of loneliness and isolation. Consequently, they’re also left to imagine the worst thoughts about themselves, or feel heightened anxiety in that constant state of waiting for a friend’s communication response.
How to Help Your Kids
So what should you as parents do to help your child navigate the world of social media and set some boundaries there? Firstly, you can be a good example of what healthy computer and technology usage looks like. Even adults are guilty of checking our phones and email too much, either out of necessity or habit. Either way, our kids should be accustomed to having genuine connection with us instead of our faces buried in our screens. Set parameters around technology usage by having “technology-free” zones in the house or hours when no technology is allowed, including your own usage. Work on creating an environment where you set the intention that face-to-face communication matters, and give your children your full attention. They need to know you’re there for them, and accessible for them to talk to about whatever is going on in their lives.
Additionally, it may be helpful to teach them practical usage of social media, and provide the context surrounding issues that are particularly unclear to your kids. Help explain why communication in relationships conducted in a virtual manner may be confusing, and provide answers to any questions they have. Provide guidelines for what’s appropriate and not appropriate to do via technology, including issues to beware of, such as sending inappropriate pictures, or privacy on sites like Facebook.
Finally, encourage your kids to engage in other activities, particularly within a broad range of interests outside of anything technology related. Model this for them, too, by reading a book or having another hobby. They need to know that other activities are just as enjoyable and interesting as screen time.
If your child experiences more significant or intense feelings of anxiety that can be linked to social media, and start to impair his daily life, it may be helpful to consult a professional counselor, who can help you implement some techniques and tools to help manage the anxiety more successfully.
“Media Guidelines for Kids of All Ages: Tips for making sure your children’s screentime is healthy.” Child Mind Institute. Retrieved on June 11, 2015 from www.childmind.org
“Social media linked to student anxiety.” The Columbia Chronicle: Health & Tech. Retrieved on June 11, 2015 from www.columbiachronicle.com
“Teens and Social Media: Experts say kids are growing up with more anxiety and less self-esteem.” Child Mind Institute. Retrieved on June 11, 2015 from www.childmind.org