How Teen Mental Health Can Be Positively And Negatively Impacted By Social Media

More than two-thirds of teens in 2022 say they use TikTok, and more than a third of teens use social media "almost constantly," according to Pew Research. How might this influence mental health? A 2018 study in eClinical Medicine found that excessive social media use among teens subjected users to a higher risk of online harassment, poor sleep, low self-esteem, and poor body image, which resulted in symptoms of depression, particularly for girls. In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Titania Jordan, Chief Parenting Officer at Bark Technologies and author of "Parenting in a Tech World", tells us the most common mental health concerns the Bark app sees among its users. Bark is a text message, email, and social media monitoring app that alerts parents about any bullying, predators, or sexual content their teens might encounter.

Jordan explains that in 2021, Bark studied 3.4 billion messages across users' social media platforms and other apps. Findings showed that more than half of teens engaged with others about depression and almost 75% of teens were involved in situations involving suicide or self-harm. Furthermore, Jordan adds, "42% of teens used language about or were exposed to anxiety...and 85% of teens experienced bullying as a bully, victim, or witness."

The positive impact of social media on mental health

Although teens may be talking about depression, anxiety, and self-harm on social media, they also use social media to find information about mental health problems. In a 2018 survey sponsored by Hopelab and Well Being Trust, 30% of teens who had symptoms of depression turned to social media to feel less alone (via Well Being Trust). They also turned to social media to connect with health peers and other supports when they felt depressed. According to the Mayo Clinic, teens also use social media as a means of expression and identity while also connecting with a global community. Using social media for humor and distraction was also found to help depression symptoms.

Although Bark only tracks engagement that needs attention, Titania Jordan says the app can foster discussions between parents and their children. "Parents are having more open and meaningful conversations with their children about social media, online dangers, and mental health, and this sets the stage for healthier behaviors and more positive impacts."

Talking to your teens about mental health

Jordan stresses the importance of knowing how your teen talks about mental health, particularly the slang teens use. This helps parents identify any warning signs of mental health concerns. In addition to educating parents on the lingo to be aware of, the Bark blog also helps parents recognize signs that their teen may be thinking about suicide. The blog is updated frequently and offers more about talking with your teen about social media and mental health.

"We can't stress enough how important it is for parents to be able to talk about anything — yes, anything — with their children," Jordan said. "Hard conversations may be stressful and awkward, but they're absolutely essential to helping kids learn about important topics."

Learn more about the Bark app and its resources at the Bark website or Bark's Instagram. You can find out more about Titania Jordan on her profile page or Instagram. For more resources for kids, teens, and young adults, Jordan also suggests the National Alliance on Mental Health website.