Social Media’s Toll on Relationships
By Laura Walker
Today, adolescent mental health disorders are escalating at an alarming rate. 1 in 5 youth experience a mental health challenge. Disorders such as depression and anxiety have risen as much as 30 percent since 2005, leaving researchers asking: “what has changed?” Some studies have pointed to the ill effects of excessive social media exposure and its role in the fundamental breakdown of interpersonal relationships.
“Instead of talking to friends and family about what is going on in their lives, we just keep up on social media,” said Canopy Children’s Solutions Outpatient Therapist Caleb Cauthen. “We as a society aren’t connecting like we used to and our relationships are suffering as a result. As social beings, we need those healthy connections to thrive”.
One study published by Clinical Psychological Science reported that increased use of social media correlates to an increased risk of feeling sad or hopeless and increased thoughts of or attempted suicide. This could be in part from the false perceptions that everyone’s life is exciting and perfect according to social media, which can have a detrimental effect on young self-esteem. The rise in cyber-bullying and “FOMO” (fear of missing out) is also believed to have increased rates of anxiety as well as depression.
“People often use social media as a way to display the best parts of their day,” said Cauthen. “We don’t typically share about our struggles because that makes us vulnerable. If all we see on social media is perfection, it is easy to begin to think our life isn’t measuring up”.
Social media in and of itself is not bad, however, using social media in place of personal relationships is not only bad, it can be dangerous. We need these close relationships to fall back on during crises and without shared experiences and regular interaction, the foundations of these relationships fall apart. Personal bonds are sources of encouragement, belonging, support and comfort and without them, life can feel hopeless.
While social media is certainly not going away anytime soon, there are some things we can do to help strengthen relationships and build stronger connections to protect from these feelings.
- Encourage your teen to “clean up” her social media. Help her realize that QUALITY is more important that QUANTITY. Remove social media distractions and focus on the relationships that translate to real life—the people you see, talk to, interact with.
- Encourage face-to-face social interaction. Have your child join a club, get involved in a church youth group, get a part-time job—encourage to be around peers who he can bond with over shared experiences or common interests.
- Monitor your child’s social media accounts. It is the parents’ responsibility to know what is going on in their child’s life, including what he posts, sees and is involved with on social media.
- “Check-in” on your teen’s mental health. At least once a week, take a few minutes to sit down, undistracted, and connect with your child.
- Teach your child self-validation, that he is more than the number of followers he has or the amount of likes received in a week. Teach him to look at the big picture and to find the positives he brings to his own life.
- Take social media breaks. Institute rules about social media and technology during meal times to encourage conversation and connection; take a social media vacation while on vacation—long or short, give yourself a break from comparisons and the mental “burden” that come with social media.
- Lead by example. If your child sees you on social media all the time, she will follow your example.
- Be vigilant. If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, reach out, press in, let her know you are there.
If you notice your child withdrawing, acting out of character, losing interest in activities, or participating in risky behavior, be aware these are potential signs of depression. If you think your child is struggling emotionally, seek professional help. Don’t wait.
Laura Walker is the staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions. Canopy is Mississippi’s most comprehensive nonprofit provider of children’s behavioral health, educational and social service solutions. Canopy offers therapeutic counseling through its behavioral health clinics in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Gulfport, serving youth ages 5-21. For more information about services through Canopy Children’s Solutions, visit mycanopy.org or call 800-388-6247.