Question: As a parent and family therapist, I've seen the damage to mental health and self-relating that social media use can do and I'm looking for any trainings that would help me better address these issues with my own kids and young adult clients. Anything you can suggest would be so helpful, and I'm so glad to see the development of your work!
Answer: When we think about the role of technology in our health and well-being, we frequently use terms such as “online and offline” or “online and in-real-life.” These terms promote a separation of our daily lives into two distinct worlds. News stories often frame technology as something that should be reduced or avoided, which could lead to a view of technology itself as a risky behavior. However, today’s youth have digital tools woven into the fabric of their everyday existence. For adolescents, technology may be seen as inclusive and not separate from their world, and as something that can lead to healthy and less healthy outcomes and experiences. To go beyond this dichotomous or split view of technology, many researchers, policymakers and families are looking for new ways to think about and guide the role of technology in how we navigate today’s world.
Existing evidence supports that it is important for parents to role model social media use by limiting phone use when present with their kids, and to have ongoing communication with their adolescents about media use and boundaries with technology. Parents should not assume that social media use is detrimental to their adolescent’s mental health, and instead consider factors that may make them more at-risk for an unhealthy relationship to social media and discuss how their media use impacts their well-being.
Resources for Parents
- Common Sense Media has within its Digital Citizenship Curriculum - Digital Footprint & Identity Lessons. For 3rd grade, there is a lesson about how to post online to best reflect who they are. For 10th grade, there is a lesson about curated selves and discussing the benefits and drawbacks of presenting your real self online.
- Family Media Plan: Consistent with AAP recommendations, we recommend household rules focused on content, communication and co-viewing.
- Consider what adolescents are viewing and how they are spending their time on social media, rather than simply aiming to reduce the amount of time adolescents spend on social media.
- Teaching By Example Media and Parenting Practices that are - and are not - Related to Adolescent Mental Health is another useful guide with evidence and recommendations for parents.
- Teens and Tech offers summaries of research specific to youth mental health and technology.
- Guidelines for parents and health professionals relevant to different stages of youth development: AAP Promoting the Healthy and Safe Use of Social Media
- Techno Sapiens is a weekly newsletter written by a clinical psychologist, Jacqueline Nesi, at Brown University who studies social media and mental health. She shares recent literature on tech and health and provides practical tips for families.
Resources for Clinicians
- Choukas-Bradley, S., et al., The Perfect Storm: A Developmental–Sociocultural Framework for the Role of Social Media in Adolescent Girls’ Body Image Concerns and Mental Health. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 2022. 25(4): p. 681-701.
- Choukas-Bradley and colleagues emphasize the need for health professionals to look into the role of social media in clients body image concerns.
- It is recommended that health professionals seek to understand the adolescent’s perspective on the role of social media in their mental health and feelings about themselves.
- An ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine examined current research around the impact of social media on the mental and physical health and wellbeing of adolescents and children. Over four separate events (Meetings 1-4), a range of speakers gave presentations and held panel discussions on the harms and benefits associated with digital media use in teens. View these webcasts using the links to each Meeting at the bottom of the committee webpage.
Recommended Research Literature
- Beyens, I., et al., The effect of social media on well-being differs from adolescent to adolescent. Scientific Reports, 2020. 10(1).
- Moreno, M.A., et al., Digital Technology and Media Use by Adolescents: Latent Class Analysis. JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, 2022. 5(2): p. e35540.
- Odgers, C.L., Smartphones are bad for some adolescents, not all. Nature, 2018. 554: p. 432-434.
- Orben, A., T. Dienlin, and A.K. Przybylski, Social media's enduring effect on adolescent life satisfaction. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2019. 116(21): p. 10226-10228.
- Weinstein, E.C., The social media see-saw: Positive and Negative influences on adolescents' affective well being. New Media & Society, 2018. 20(10): p. 3597-3623.
Age: 10-25, early adolescence, middle adolescence, late adolescence
Topics: Mental health, social media, parenting
Role: Clinician, mental health professionals
American Academy of Pediatrics