When we look at our phones, our bodies can elicit one of two emotions: either pure excitement or intense jealousy. This doesn’t sit well with me. We are allowing other people to determine the outcome of how we feel. We are letting other people tell us how to feel about ourselves, our place in life, and our circumstances.

In this digital age, social media plays a massive role in governing how we feel about ourselves. Social media does this to us because we let it. We feel excited and encouraged one moment, and the next we feel anxious. We begin to get used to feelings of failure, or thoughts like, “try harder, do more” or “you’re not good enough.” Does this sound familiar?

How does this sit with you? Take a quick inventory of your most recent feelings when looking at social media. What do you notice?

according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), teens spend over 11 hours each day looking at their phones. How much of an impact does this social media usage have on our youth? A lot.

Before we go any further, let’s address some quick facts.

According to a social media study done by PEW Research Center:

  • YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among teens.
  • 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online almost constantly.
  • Teens’ social media use differs by gender. Girls dominate social media; boys are more likely to play video games. 84% of boys play video games on their phones.
  • With girls, cyberbullying, comparison, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem lead to negative effects of social media.
  • 74% use social media to make themselves “look cooler” and be accepted among other girls.
  • Less than 50% of adolescents with mental health challenges seek help.

The accessibility to these social media platforms are nearly impossible to avoid.

Some of the most important aspects for parents to pay attention to are the warning signs and negative impact markers that social media can have on their kids. If you are reading this article for yourself, perhaps you, too, could benefit from knowing more about the harmful effects social media can have on you.

The harmful effects of social media on teens:

  1. It’s addictive. “Likes” and comments are positive reinforcement for posting information, making it difficult for a person to stop. When we see “likes” on things we post through platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram it creates the very same neural circuitry of dopamine release to “feel good” as someone would using slot machines or drugs. To learn more about the dopamine release and feeling it causes read this recent article by Harvard University.
  2. The comparison trap. We are living in a world where comparison is the default. Author and speaker, Paul Angone calls it “the new OCD” (obsessive comparison disorder). The result is that we forget to stop and think for ourselves. We let family, friends, social media, and even strangers weigh in and affect our decision making. Not to mention the constant pressure to always keep it together, strive for perfection, and hide the characteristics we don’t like about ourselves, causing fear of judgement and rejection. As a result, we become restless and dissatisfied with ourselves.the impact of social media on teens
  3. Depression. Social media use can create overall dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem. It can evoke feelings of failure in life and cause isolation, weight gain, loss of interest in personal endeavors, and lack of sleep, often leading to depression.
  4. Health concerns. The way adolescents spend their time can strongly influence their health later in life. For young people to maintain a healthy lifestyle, they need plenty of sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise, and time to form face-to-face relationships with family, friends, and caring adults. According to the AAP, excessive media use has also been linked to several health issues such as, obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression, and other behavioral issues.
  5. Multitasking. Research has shown that our brains don’t have the capacity to fully focus our attention on two things at once. Instead, according to research provided by the American Psychological Association, multitasking causes our brain to quickly switch from one task to another, which actually hinders information processing and productivity.
  6. Safety risks. The risks of social media can include cyberbullying, stalking, sexting and inappropriate content, exposure to predators, and having private information available publicly.
  7. Avoidant behavior. Teens are missing out on critical social skills when a majority of time is spent looking at phones rather than having a face-to-face conversation. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect, says “there’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. In a way, texting and online communicating — it’s not like it creates a nonverbal learning disability, but it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” Even addressing conflict becomes a part of avoidant behavior.
  8. Peer acceptance. This is a big concern for adolescents as many teens deeply care about their image. Teens are essentially polling data on how much people like them or their appearance. Clinical psychologist, author, and teacher Dr. Steiner-Adair says that “self-esteem comes from consolidating who you are.” The more identities you have, and the more time you spend pretending to be someone you aren’t, the harder it’s going to be to feel good about yourself.

How can we help?


The attitudinal or behavioral outcomes of social media use — or even screen time in general — can be expected to influence teens views about themselves, what they place their identity in, and how they view the world. It’s like the saying, “you are who you hang out with.” The people and products we surround ourselves with shape how we think and what we value, which is why it is so important to inform and educate our teens of healthy ways to interact with social media.


  • Teach awareness. When teens know the effect social media can have on them, the awareness can help prevent negative thoughts about themselves.


  • Have open communication. Keep the conversation open and active with your teens about expectations and behaviors associated with social media use.



  • Encourage privacy. There can be so many unsafe things about social media and may be preventable if discussed with your teens. Set privacy settings and talk to your teens about what to be aware of when people they don’t know message them.



  • Model healthy screen time. It can be helpful to model an appropriate amount of time spent looking at your phone, as well as encourage face-to-face communication with others and limiting the amount of screen time. The AAP suggests teens should only be using entertainment media for about two hours or less a day.


  • Is screen time the reward or consequence? The more we take a phone away from our teens for bad behavior, the more they will want to use it. It becomes even more desirable, therefore increasing the risk of overvaluing the phone itself and social media use.


  • Safeguard your child. Talk to teens about how to prevent and handle issues such as sexting, pornography, and cyberbullying. Also caution against these conversations or sending inappropriate photos and the effects this can have on future decisions like their career.


  • Set healthy boundaries. Boundary setting can be a very important tool for excessive social media use (and technology in general). The American Academy of Pediatrics provides a

    family media contract, as does Let’s Talk Teens,Free Download Parent Child Smartphone Contract Agreement

    as a tool to help talk to your teens about the importance of setting guidelines and limits on social media use.

  • Encourage other activities. There are many ways to spend our free time. Motivate your teens to opt outside or get involved in something they’re interested in, from sports and music to volunteering for a cause that sparks an interest and gives them confidence. When teens learn to build confidence by pursuing something they are passionate about, they’re happier and have a better sense of who they are and where they are headed in life.
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If you have questions about the effects of social media use or if you are concerned about your child, please don’t hesitate to contact Novo Life Counseling for a free 15-minute phone consultation.


Please comment or share your experiences on this topic with us!


Thank you for reading,

Leanne Konzelman, Ma, Lmhca Let's Talk Teens

Novo Life Counseling | @novolifecounseling

Leanne is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate and Founder of Novo Life Counseling. She is committed to developing a positive and helpful partnership with each client during the therapy process. Working with couples, teens, and adults she is passionate about helping clients find balance and live their life to the fullest. Leanne is an avid adventurer, and enjoys exploring with her husband Drew and baby girl! 

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