Social media, anxiety and your teens

Social media, anxiety and your teens

Social media is a vast and sometimes confusing world to navigate for both parents, tweens and teens. From FOMO, viral challenges, sexting and more- it’s difficult to understand the harm social media can cause.  As a parent, you might wonder how all of this affects your teens and tweens because it does! A common link between anxiety and social media is on the rise.

This is how social media can produce anxiety within teens and how parents can help them.

How social media causes anxiety

Yes, everyone experiences anxiety in their life at every age.  However, there is a difference between occasional anxiety and an anxiety disorder that requires professional care.

A study found 48 percent of teens who spend five hours per day on an electronic device have at least one suicide risk factor compared to 33 percent of teens who spend two hours a day! How is social media causing this much depression and anxiety in teens and tweens?

Social media is inadvertently causing constant fear of not getting enough likes, missing out on the best things in life and poor self-esteem issues.

A researcher at Harvard University  reported teens who spent a significant amount of time on social media experienced  anxiety, poor self-esteem, insecurity issues and extreme sadness.

The stressors that can cause anxiety

A PEW study shows there is a direct correlation between social media, teens and friendship which  causes a range of social media stressors like anxiety:

  • Seeing others post about events you never got invited to
  • The pressure to always show your best or perfect moments to everyone
  • The pressure to get the most likes, comments and shares
  • The notion of not controlling what others are saying and posting about you

These stressors and reactions are also known as digital stressors. The link between social media and anxiety triggers reactions such as the constant urge to be near a phone to avoid being replaced by friends or experiencing FOMO.

Understanding these consequences, now you want to know: what can I do as a parent to help alleviate this stress and remind my kids it’s just social media?

Parents, help your teens understand social media

The first thing a parents can do to help their teens and tweens with this issue is set a good example. Parents are also guilty of being glued to their screens whether it’s checking emails, sending a quick text or scrolling through their news feed on Facebook. A great idea is to create technology free spaces inside the home. Think the kitchen, living room and other places your family can spend quality time.

The next task is to get a good sense of your teens and tweens online activity. Which social media application are they using the most, who is liking their images and about how long are they on social media. This can help create an understanding of where the anxiety is coming from.

You could hear about the positive and negative sides to all of this and help them cope with social media and anxiety in these ways:

- Love yourself. As a teen or tween, it hurts to not be invited places or see all your friends hanging out without you but it’s okay. You can set the phone down for the rest of the day, a week or just logout of social media for a bit. This is a simple way to promote self-love.

- Get them off their phones. The best thing to do is encourage offline activities. A family game night, let them go see a movie with their friends, encourage them to join a club or sport. This helps them post positive things and create a positive digital brand and footprint.  

- Talk it out. As a parent, you understand it’s not the end of the world that Julie didn’t invite your Sarah to the movies. But as a teen, this might feel like the end of the world. (We were all once dramatic, young teens.) Tell her to find someone else to make plans with so they’re not anxious and waiting for Julie to keep posting about all the fun she is having.

At the end of the day, social media has several benefits and downsides. If your teen is showing severe anxiety, low self-esteem or other concerning mental health issues, please contact a professional!


Smart Girl Society, Inc., is an Omaha-based nonprofit working to educate and inspire smart,  confident girls, women and families. This is done through educational workshops, civil outreach programs and technology and social media research.  Interested in learning more? Check us out!