The most popular app today among adolescents is Instagram, but teens also report that it’s the app causing them the most emotional problems. In a survey of over 1,500 teens and young adults, Instagram was cited over other apps such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat as having the greatest impact on their anxiety levels.1 There’s a pivotal factor here that determines how much anxiety adolescents experience in social media use. How much are they emotionally invested in social media?
Emotional investment involves the level of vulnerability they share, the time they spend, and their level addictiveness. When teens get upset because they cannot check their messages frequently, it shows that they are too emotionally invested. For these teens, social media is an extremely important part of their life, and checking it is a high priority in their daily routine. In these scenarios, parents need to watch for problems that accompany high levels of emotional investment in social media use.
Visual Problems. The concern here is not eyesight, but rather the way teenagers begin to view the world based on the social media they are viewing. One of the reasons teens cite Instagram as a depression inducing app is due to the picture-centered nature of the app. Girls especially report having lower body satisfaction when they are highly engaged on social media.2 Teenagers live in a pornographic society, and they’re affected by it, even if they never view pornography. Being immersed in an image-based society steers one’s focus toward appearances rather than face-to-face interactions. Images steer the expectation of what one should look like, what is fun, what is acceptable, and what one’s goals should be. Pornography may be a bigger problem for boys than girls, but girls deal with the anxiety of keeping up with what attracts boys visually and behaviorally. And in many cases, what attracts the boys is unrealistic, due to a perspective acquired through the endless view of seductive images.
Sleep-Deprivation. Researchers have pinpointed sleep deprivation as a common problem among teens who are both emotionally invested in social media and who suffer from higher levels of anxiety. They found that teens with poorer sleep quality were those who were the most invested in social media.3The more sleep-deprived adolescents become, the more they deal with depression.3 Teenagers need several quality hours of sleep in order to function emotionally. Some are sleep-deprived because they are engaged in social media late into the night. They have difficulty turning off their devices due to their high levels of emotional investment.
Emotional Weakness. Low self-esteem, depression, and feelings of isolation are higher among teens who use social media at night.3 Adolescents who are emotionally invested develop feelings of isolation and cannot check social media enough. Therefore, they allow social media to steal valuable hours of sleep that jeopardize their ability to function emotionally. As a result of being sleep-deprived, they deal with self-esteem issues and feelings of being left out.
Anxiety Bandwagons. Long before social media existed, teenagers had a tendency to talk with each other about their issues of anxiety in a way that spreads it rather than eliminating it. The technical word for this is corumination.4 Now that teens have social media, corumination has been taken to cyberspace. The problem is that when teens share their anxiety problems on social media, they are not sharing their problems with qualified counselors who can help them, but they are sharing their problems with other teens – the age group that thrives on drama. It’s not therapeutic for adolescents to discuss issues of depression with each other. Most teenagers lack the discernment to know when “anxiety talk” has gone too far and has entered an unhealthy stage, and teens lack the knowledge of a qualified adult to help another teen overcome emotional problems.
In addition, it’s unhealthy for teenagers to be exposed to an abundance of knowledge about anxiety and other mental health issues, whether the information is about a personal friend or information about mental health problems in general. Too much information can plant seeds in one’s mind and result in emotional problems that never existed before becoming exposed to the mental health issue.
Each of these issues presents a big reminder to parents: adolescents require supervision. While we offer more freedom to our teens as they grow older, we must remember that they do not yet possess the self-control, self-restraint, and knowledge needed to tackle all of the emotional challenges they face during adolescence. Teens need reasonable rules and supervision to help them maintain emotional stability as they navigate through the latter years of their childhood.
1Chowdhry, A. (2019). Study says Instagram is ranked the worst social app for causing young people to feel depressed. Retrieved from www.forbes.com
2Shah, J., Das, P., Muthiah, N., & Milanaik, R. (2019). New age technology and social media; adolescent psychosocial implications and the need for protective measures. Retrieved from www.co-pediatrics.com.
3Woods, H.C. & Scott, H. (2016). #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of Adolescence, 51, 41-49. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.05.008
4 Ehrenreich, S.E., & Underwood, M.K. (2016). Adolescents’ internalizing symptoms as predictors of the content of their Facebook communication and responses received from peers. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 2, 227-237. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tps0000077