Social media a double-edged sword for teenagers’ mental health, Valley expert says

Apr 3, 2024, 4:35 AM | Updated: 6:12 am

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a four-part special KTAR News series called “Youth on Edge,” which will examine mental health and behavioral issues among our teens and young adults. Read part one here.

PHOENIX — Social media is where culture and communication intersect the most for teenagers, who are spending more and more times on apps that could be harmful for their mental health, a Valley expert says.

According to a 2023 Gallup poll, the average teen spends about five hours a day on social media sites. It’s where they’re comfortable, according to Banner Health clinical psychologist Francia Day.

“There’s this idea that socializing occurs primarily in the online world,” Day told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “It’s so much a part of our everyday lives. And because the teen years are such a formative developmental stage, they’re comfortable in the online world.”

Social media appetite allows for damaging comparison

The extensive consumption of a very filtered version of other people’s lives can make a teenager question their own, Day believes.

“There seems to be a high level of comparison which naturally happens at that age,” Day said. “We’re trying to see which groups we fit in with and which groups we don’t.

“‘Do I meet the standards that social media is creating I should look like, I should act like, I should be like?’ That can be confusing and unrealistic.”

If young people put too much stock into this lens of thinking of themselves, that’s when the comparison can lead to further mental health struggles, explained Day.

“So here we are in this place where, ‘I’m not pretty enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not funny enough as all these people that I see online,'” Day said.

“And then we start to engage in negative self-talk. Our confidence goes down and that’s when we see the root of mental health issues.”

Social media can have its benefits for teens

While teenagers can recognize that what they see on social media is filtered and edited, it can still be aspirational, Day added.

“There’s still this sense of, ‘I want to achieve that, I want to see maybe I can get to that point or how come that is not the world that I live in?'” Day said.

Social media also is a major avenue for information for teenagers. About half of teens get their news from their social media feed, according to a report from Deloitte Insights.

“The online world is a double-edged sword,” Day said. “It has the opportunity to teach us, but it also has the potential of spreading information that can be very damaging.”

But hearing other people’s stories through social media can be a vital part of taking the first step toward treatment or recovery, acknowledged Day.

“Because it connects us to such a wider range of people, it opens up the world,” Day said. “It has the opportunity to connect us to those who are willing to share their journey.”

That willingness to discuss the realities of mental health struggles on these public platforms is something that helps reduce the stigma around the subject, according to Day.

“In that generation, there is more potential to normalize that some of these experiences are normal, some of these difficulties other people face as well,” Day said.

“They don’t have to feel alone and there is support out there.”

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Social media a double-edged sword for teenagers’ mental health, Valley expert says