According to a January study, more than half of the world now uses social media, and the average daily time spent on social media is two hours and twenty-seven minutes.
Social media is changing our lives and impacting your entire family, whether you’re using it or not. During our monthly webinar, a panel of experts dove into its impact on our mental health and what to do about it.
Social media’s impact on teen mental health
“The use of social media has been linked to increased dopamine signals in the teen brain, causing an increase in pleasure,” says Spring Health Provider Lead Megan Bohinc. “Social media is giving us a very tangible way to see if we fit in, and it’s also allowing everyone else to decide our value.”
A recent study at the UCLA brain mapping center found that certain regions of teen brains become activated by likes on social media, sometimes leading to increased usage because the reward region of the brain is particularly sensitive during the teen years.
Teenagers often use social media to avoid dealing with difficult emotions, which can cause and magnify mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Too much screen time can also lead to a loss of sleep, the inability to interact with others in real life, and the jealousy that comes from playing the comparison game.
“The link between social media use and happiness has been well-established in research,” says Mandie Conforti, LCSW, Senior Director of Employer & EAP Strategy at Spring Health. “Teenagers who use social media for more than two hours a day are more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
Social media’s impact on adult mental health
As adults, we’re not immune. It’s essential for parents and all adults to recognize the addictive nature of social media likes and how their personal mental health can be impacted.
Michele Harris, Manager of Work Life Services at Wellstar Health System, has experienced the negative impact of social media on a very personal level. She struggled with postpartum after she had her daughter, and was met with feelings of overwhelming comparison and fear that she wasn’t “doing parenting right” whenever she picked up her phone.
Michele finally made the decision to go off of all social media platforms. She says, “There are so many people who can control it and put limits on themselves, and I’m simply not one of those people.”
Modeling healthy behavior
This brings us to the “million dollar question” that was asked by an event attendee in the chat: how do we break the unhealthy cycle of social media and the pressure that comes along with it?
This will look different for every family, but it starts with asking these questions:
- Are you modeling the behavior you expect from your kids?
- How can you instill the values in your kids that can counteract social media?
- What needs to be part of our playbook?
Kids need a set of rules to thrive, and as you’re leading by example, it’s so important to explain why you’re making these choices and also why you’re enforcing certain rules.
Here are a few of our panelists’ house rules:
- No phones in the bedroom
- No phones are the dinner table
- Phones are put down an hour before bedtime
Parents and guardians can have a huge impact by instilling the right values into their children, helping them see their value apart from social media, and showing them how valuable they are.
How to support your employees
When one member of the family is struggling, the entire family is impacted, so it’s important for employers to know how to provide support.
Michele says, “Talking honestly about any struggle as a parent is hard. Be open and honest and never judgemental about where anyone is on their journey.”
At WellStar, they create safe sharing spaces through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). They’re also using an ALEC acronym that Spring Health gave them, which stands for Ask, Listen, Encourage Action, and Check In.
“Leaders are truly the eyes of the organization,” says Michele. “They have a pulse on their team, and see what their people are like, day in and day out. Be sure they have the tools to recognize when something is off with a team member, or a member of their family.”
Any habit can become addictive, and Megan stated the importance of using social media in moderation. Ask these questions about social media regularly to check in with yourself and your family members:
- Is it negatively affecting your mental health?
- Can you cut back or give it up?
- Is your everyday life impacted by your social media life?
- Is it affecting your sleep?
- Is your school or work performance being impacted by this?
Creating a healthier relationship with social media
Neuropsychologist Dr. David Permutter has developed this helpful acronym that spells TIME:
- TRY to give yourself a time limit instead of endlessly scrolling
- Be INTENTIONAL about how you use your time online
- Be MINDFUL of your experience when you are online.
- Make it ENRICHING. If it’s not enriching your life, why are you doing it?
It takes a village
The social media landscape is a whole new world that every parent is figuring out. Michele’s advice? “Find your village—the folks who can lift you up, listen to you, support you, and hear you, in the good and the bad.”
It can be hard to keep track of all the social media platforms that are available and how active your teens are on all of them, what they are posting, who they are friends with, what information is made public in their profiles.
Watch the full discussion on demand to learn more about how you and your family can create a healthier relationship with social media.