Social media is in the eye of a national discussion. Congress is holding hearings. The heads of primary social media outlets are in the news daily, for good and for bad. And the word “algorithms” has joined the daily vocabulary of many. It is about time.

You may not know this, but research has shown that there is an undeniable link between social media use, negative mental health, and low self-esteem. We can all agree that while social media outlets have their benefits, their too frequent use by individuals can cause people to feel increasingly unhappy and isolated.

I am sure many of you are aware that content on Instagram or Facebook is highly coordinated content. This includes ads and posts that are specifically targeted and designed to appeal to users based on their interests. Users may see others’ posting about their great jobs, exceptional partners, or beautiful homes and feel happy or inspired as a result. Others, however, may see these posts and feel jealous, depressed, or even suicidal due to the fact that their own life is not as “perfect” as those that they see on Facebook or Instagram.

I am choosing this time to bring this to everyone’s attention because an estimated 27% of children who spend three or more hours a day on social media exhibit symptoms of poor mental health.

What we know is that the overuse of social networking sites is much more problematic in children and young adults because their brains and social skills are still developing. Research has shown that adolescents who habitually use social media from a young age have severely stunted social interaction skills. Despite the fact that users are interacting with each other on these platforms, many of these types of interactions don’t necessarily translate well to the real world.

Studies have found that these individuals have worsened social anxiety in groups, higher rates of depression, negative body image, and lowered levels of empathy and compassion toward others when surveyed.

Another study, this one through the California State University found that individuals that visited any social media site at least 58 times per week were three times more likely to feel socially isolated and depressed compared to those who used social media fewer than nine times per week.

The constant barrage of perfectly filtered photos that appear on social network sites can also cause low self-esteem and disordered eating in young adults. Though many teens know that their peers share only their best pictures and moments on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. The ongoing exposure to unrealistic beauty standards through social networking sites can affect how teenagers perceive their own bodies.

The University of Pittsburgh found a correlation between time spent scrolling through social media apps and negative body image feedback. Those who had spent more time on social media had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating and body image concerns when compared to their peers who spent less time on social media. Everything from physical appearance to life circumstances to perceived successes is scrutinized and processed by users. The need to gain likes on social media can cause teens to not only alter their appearance but also to make choices they would otherwise not make, including accepting risky social media challenges and engaging in negative behaviors.

Unfortunately, competition for attention and likes can even lead to online bullying. Name-calling, rumor-spreading, and harassment among adolescents have always happened, but social media presents young users with more opportunities to do so than ever before. This is especially true for teenage girls who are at particular risk for cyberbullying through the use of social media; and by the way, boys are not immune.

And by the way, did you know that almost 25% of teens say they have been sent explicit images they didn’t ask for, while seven percent say someone has shared explicit images of them without their consent. This type of abuse, along with other forms of cyberbullying, has unfortunately led to increased suicide rates among young adults. And, these factors have also contributed to the development of increased levels of anxiety in teens and adolescents.So how can you recognize social media addiction in your own family?

Although many people habitually use social media, very few are genuinely addicted. To determine if someone is at risk of developing an addiction to social media, ask these six questions:

  • Do they spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
  • Do they feel urges to use social media more and more?
  • Do they use social media to forget about personal problems?
  • Do they often try to reduce use of social media without success?
  • Do they become restless or troubled if unable to use social media?
  • Do they use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on their job or studies?

A “yes” to more than three of these questions may indicate the presence of social media addiction.

What’s the solution?

A digital detox, a period of time during which someone significantly reduces the time spent using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, could be a wise precaution. This can include simple steps, such as turning off sound notifications and only checking social media sites once an hour. Other changes can include having periods in the day where there is self-imposed non-screen time, such as during meal times, or leaving the phone in a separate room at night so as not to disturb sleep. This allows for a restored focus on social interaction in the physical world and reduces dependency on networking sites.

Wellspring offers presentations targeted to youth, educators and parents. If you are interested in having someone speak to your audience, please reach out to Nicki Frances, Coordinator of Program and Professional Development, at

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