20 February 2024

It’s almost impossible to talk about social media without considering its impact on mental health, especially when it comes to our young people. From excessive screen time and the inability to switch off, to the pressure to conform to online standards, it can be tricky to navigate, particularly for teens who are still developing and learning more about themselves and who they want to be. 

Llanishen High School’s parents seem to agree. When we surveyed 339 parents in 2023 about the main concerns and challenges when it comes to social media, 80% of you said that you believe that social media has a negative impact on your teenager’s mental health at least some of the time. It’s a top concern around teenager social media use and understandably so. So in this blog, we wanted to share some advice and things to consider when safeguarding your teen’s mental health when they’re active on social media.

Avoid putting a value on likes

Deep down, we all like to be liked. That’s why having likes and followers on social media can make us feel so good about ourselves. It’s the hit of the feel-good hormone, dopamine, and thanks to the gamification of the social platforms (like those red alerts which encourage us to keep going back) and the fear of missing out (FOMO), it’s easy to get addicted to this feeling. Despite the benefits of social media like community and creativity, your teen may start to feel like their self-worth or value is linked to the number of ‘likes’ they get in a day or the number of followers they can acquire. This can quickly create a dependence on the need to feel validated and lead to a downhill spiral of lower self-worth and greater insecurities. If you notice your teen shows increased signs of dependency on this type of validation, encourage them to step away and strike a better balance between their online and real life. 

Start by asking them:

  • Could you avoid sharing for a few days and engage in more real-life activities that you enjoy?
  • Could you hide the likes on your Instagram posts so you’re not so worried about having this on show for your followers?
  • What are you posting? 
  • Why do you feel it’s important that you share that?

Remember social media isn’t reality

Social media is a highlights reel – you see the good bits and the parts that people want you to see. While this can be entertaining (and sometimes aspirational), it can also negatively impact self-esteem if taken at face value. For example, editing apps like Facetune have grown in popularity and allow people to edit their appearance – from slimming their face or body to smoothing out their skin or brightening teeth or eyes. A large percentage of the influencers or celebrities your teens see every day are using these apps (with the Kardashians being called out for this regularly), and the original is often nothing like the version you see in your feed. 

To help your teen avoid the comparison cycle, here’s some advice you might want to share:

  • Unfollow accounts that don’t make you feel great about yourself
  • Find smaller accounts you can relate to and inspire you
  • Share and engage with content that you find encouraging and positive
  • Create a feed that feels authentically ‘you’ – if you wouldn’t keep that person in your close friendship group, then perhaps they don’t need to be in your online community.

Manage screen time effectively 

As it’s so integral to their daily life, you may be shocked by how much time your teen spends on their phone. This may be why two-thirds of LHS parents have chosen to introduce a cut-off time for screens at home, with a further 14% considering it. Studies show that excessive screen time can lead to increased anxiety and depression, especially if teens are spending a lot of time alone on their devices. High usage also shows less curiosity, self-control, and emotional stability. It’s something that’s important to consider and monitor, and you may choose to make it part of your family routine to switch off screens at certain points. 

If you want some top tips, here are some of ours:

  • Encourage them to switch off notifications during key times of the day (meal times, homework time etc)
  • Sit down and review their screen time together
  • Introduce more activities that don’t require a device and think about getting outdoors more
  • Create a routine where you have some tech-free time as a family
  • Before you pause their screen time, give them a warning before their time is up, and ask them to finish what they’re doing.

Don’t forget, it can be a positive

It’s too easy to get fixated on the negatives around social media, especially if you’re concerned about your child’s wellbeing. Yet don’t forget, it can have a positive impact on mental health too. It’s all about striking the right balance, but it can help your teen to:

  • Connect with others – finding new communities where they can feel a sense of belonging and have meaningful conversations.
  • Reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation – an essential part of connection, especially if they’re actively engaging in social rather than ‘doom scrolling’ without purpose.
  • Express themselves – sharing their opinions, experiences and perspectives.
  • Get creative – whether they’re making a Reel, TikTok or written content, it’s a great way to express creativity. 
  • Hear about other people’s experiences – this can be people from all walks of life, all over the world. It helps to broaden their perspective.
  • Find out new information – whether it’s learning a new skill or researching a new topic, social media is packed with new information ready to be discovered.

We completely appreciate that it can be a worry, but social media doesn’t have to be avoided completely unless it’s having a negative impact on your teen. It’s all about the individual and how they use the different platforms. It may be a consistent work in progress to strike a balance that works (and is maintainable), but it’s certainly something to consider. 

We offer more in-depth helpful tips and advice in our social media guide for parents. To download this, click here >>>