Social media, a part of childhood that parents worry about but can’t seem to control, is a legitimate cause for concern.
The research suggests overuse of social media negatively impacts the subjective well-being of 10- to 15-year-old kids — namely, their mental health.
That’s especially alarming when you consider that 95 percent of American teens use social media daily, according to the Pew Research Center.
Highest negative impact on teens? Instagram
Instagram users reported exaggerated “feelings of inadequacy and anxiety,” according of the study of nearly 1,500 teens between 2010 and 2014.
Instagram, one of the top social-media platforms for sharing photos, has the most negative impact on mental health, the study found.
More than 700 million daily active users share photos on Instagram. Many are celebrities with a huge teen following, such as Taylor Swift, who debuted her new song, “Look What You Made Me Do,” on Instagram this week.
“Status of Mind” author Matt Keracher said the problem is that “young girls take Instagram images at face value.” Teens don’t ask themselves if social-media images are digitally manipulated or staged.
What about Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter?
Teens were asked to score each social platform in 14 categories relating to well-being and mental health.
The study revealed other popular social-media sites, including Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, also affected teens’ well-being. The study found that social media worsened:
- Body-image worries.
- Sleep problems.
- Fear of missing out.
Instagram is largely blamed for worsening teen body-image feelings, according to the study.
Meanwhile, YouTube, a video creation and sharing platform, impacted teens’ sleep, participants said. Nearly 88 percent of teens said it’s a problem for them.
Perhaps more frightening is the rampant cyber-bullying teens revealed to researchers conducting the study. They estimate nearly one in two teens experience cyber-bullying to some degree.
Cyber-bullying is a growing problem, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, with a quarter of middle and high schools battling unrestrained cyber-bullying.
Factors behind self-loathing, teen suicide
Sexting and cyber-bullying are the two dominant forces that lead to self-loathing and higher rates of teen suicide, according to Izzy Kalman, teen-bullying specialist.
Experts agree teens who spend two hours or more daily on social media are most at risk for adverse well-being behaviors.
Some experts say cellphone companies should program “heavy-usage” pop-up notifications. Others say there should be free or nearly-free apps parents can download.
The bottom line: Educating children about social media and what cyber-bullying is starts at home. Parents need to monitor their teens’ behaviors and evaluate how social media may be affecting their mental health.
Age-appropriate conversations with children should starts when parents first allow children the access to socially connected devices.