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There is a correlation between a teen’s social media use and lower moods.

An article was just published in The Economist summarizing a very large scale study correlating teen social media use with “malaise,” depressed moods and hopelessness.  The study was conducted on about 500,000 American teens.  It showed a strong relationship between teens who regularly view social media and those who feel low about life.  This was not true for those who use social media to engage with friends, such as using it to text.  This was the most true for those who use it to passively browse others’ posts.


There is an inevitable comparing of lives that happens when looking at what other people post.  What your teen doesn’t see is all the moments that a person doesn’t put on social media.  There is no picture posted of your teen’s friend looking bored in math class.  There is no picture posted of blurred eye make-up after sobbing because of a break-up.  There is no post unveiling discord in the home.  There is no post detailing the misery other teens feel when they have shameful secrets like addiction to pornography.  Social media is a very, very brief snapshot of a moment in time that is doctored by premeditated attempts to make that moment sound or appear a certain way.  What I mean by this is that before you take a picture, you smile.  Were you actually in a smiley mood?  Who knows?  Before you click “post” you thought out the words you wanted to share with the world.  What happened to all the other simultaneous thoughts you filtered out and didn’t write?  These can range from the innocuous, ‘I feel a little hungry,’ to the embarrassing to the downright shameful.  Those are rarely posted.


So what happens to your teen?  After hours of counseling teens, my theory is your son or daughter is left wondering at all the ways he or she is inadequate.  Your son or daughter is also spending hours reading things that are counter to the values you have taught since the day your child was born.  Your child is consistently hit with a message that if his values aren’t changed to reflect what modern relativistic culture calls for, he is a racist, misogynist, anti-progressive, homophobic, xenophobic horror of a human being.  It is highly conflicting for an adolescent mind.  Your adolescent hasn’t yet developed the reasoning power to adequately research paradigms and come to her own conclusions.  She is still extremely impressionable.  She easily absorbs the unconscious psychological message that she needs to conform to the non-conformists if she is to be anything less than a complete wretch.


On the other hand, teens who spend face to face time with their friends and family appear to be happier.  These same teens who work a job, play sports, and engage in “real life” are often filled with a lot more hope.  This doesn’t mean every day is a happy day.  However, it does mean you as a parent have a responsibility to strongly consider what technology does and doesn’t do for your burgeoning adult.  It means you have to know the science behind what is happening to this generation, and teach your child to balance virtual life with real life.


Click here if you wish to read the original article from The Economist.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT