The Peninsula Health Care District, San Mateo Union High School District and Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing are collaborating on a comprehensive school-based mental health program serving 8,500 students at seven schools.  Early identification, intervention and access to mental health support are the biggest challenges in addressing mental health issues for youth and adolescents.

The statistics are eye-opening:

1 in 5 adolescents is living with a mental health condition.

50% have developed this condition by the age of 14.

70% of San Mateo Youth Commission survey respondents reported being nervous, depressed or emotionally distressed within the last month.

The PHCD is excited to share this blog post, Connected Without Connecting!  Social Media, Teens & Mental Health:  Quick Tips for Parents, as the first in a series of guest blogs by Stanford.  Being a parent of a teen has always been challenging, but parenting teens in an age of 24/7 technology makes it even more complicated.

This new blog post shares insights into the world of social media and teens.  Read on for tips on how to handle your teenager’s social media usage in a world where everyone is connected without truly connecting.

Connected Without Connecting! Social Media, Teens & Mental Health: Quick Tips for Parents

Youth do not know a world without access to technology 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yet many parents struggle to understand the basics of social media, let alone feel comfortable with the huge role it can play in their children’s lives.

Social media has become a cornerstone of adolescence and yet it presents one of the most vexing parenting challenges of our generation. What should parents know about its impact on the mental health of young people?

For this generation, interactions with friends both online and offline is seamless. Social media is a space in which young people express their feelings, seek interpersonal support and connect with friends. Parents and educators can view social media as an extension of the schoolyard. Each application is another platform where youth meet, play and interact. Participating in social media can help youth feel socially included, in the same way that opting out of participating can lead youth to feel socially excluded.

Social media use carries inherent risks and its adverse effects on mental health are beginning to emerge. According to a recent report from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in Great Britain, social media use has been linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep, and 7 in 10 young people have experienced bullying online. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram all demonstrated some negative health effects, including anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep, body image and fear of missing out.  The one-dimensional, comparative and predominately image-based nature of social media exposes young users to criticism and public judgment on a massive scale. This creates unrealistic expectations and pressures that can be hard to manage, particularly for young people who are eager to fit in with their peers.

For vulnerable young people, exposure to some online content can encourage dangerous behaviors such as disordered eating, self-mutilation and thoughts of suicide. Sexual images, drug use and violent imagery are all pervasive online. Without adequate monitoring, access to age-inappropriate and potentially harmful information is literally at any child’s fingertips. Gaming is hugely popular and fun for many young people, but also an area of concern for parents who worry their children are playing too much, at the expense of homework, physical activity and off-line social interaction.

How much is too much?  More research is needed, but according to the RSPH report, young people who spend more than two hours per day connecting on social networking sites are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress. The answer also comes down to family values and how screen time fits in with the other activities and types of interaction that a family wants to encourage. Parents should feel empowered to set limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages all families to develop a Family Media Plan, deciding together how much is too much, what media are acceptable, and why limits are important.

The most important thing a parent can do is to be tuned in to what media youth are consuming, how they are using it, and the messages they convey and receive through their use of media. Common Sense Media is a reputable resource for both parents and educators, with an extensive inventory of media and an associated rating system. This includes social networking applications, movies, games, websites and much more. My Digital Tat2 stresses the importance of teaching young people critical thinking skills to promote responsible media use and hosts several resource lists for parents and educators. ConnectSafely has several guides for parents and educators on mobile phones, social media, cyberbullying and more.

Social media has numerous benefits, offering virtual communities for nearly every interest and a space for youth to express themselves and make social connections. Teens are more likely to report positive social and emotional impacts from use of social media than negative ones (Common Sense Media, 2012). However, there are also inherent risks, particularly for those who may be more vulnerable and at risk for harmful behavior.

Educators and parents must be aware of both the benefits and risks associated with media usage. Parents should actively monitor and maintain awareness of their adolescent’s media usage, just as they would with relationships and interactions taking place offline. The old saying everything in moderation is more relevant than ever in this increasingly connected age.

About the Author: Vicki Harrison, MSW is Manager for the Center for Youth Mental Health & Wellbeing and Manager of Community Partnerships in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Her primary role at the Center is to develop and manage innovative programs, events and partnerships that support early identification and treatment of mental health issues, stigma-reduction and increased access to care, particularly for young people ages 12-25.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *