Social media and protecting teenager's mental health

In recent years, the mental health of teenagers has become a topic of significant concern and discussion, particularly in the UK. As a therapist, I see firsthand the struggles that many young people face in navigating the complexities of adolescence, which are increasingly exacerbated by the pervasive influence of social media. 

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The pressures stemming from these digital platforms are immense and multifaceted, warranting urgent attention and action from both parents and society at large.


The all-encompassing influence of social media

Social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok have become integral to the social lives of teenagers. While these platforms offer opportunities for connection and self-expression, they also present a host of challenges. The constant barrage of images and messages promotes unrealistic standards of beauty, success and happiness. For teenagers, who are in a critical developmental stage, these comparisons can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and anxiety.

Beyond these pressures, there are more sinister aspects to consider. Blackmail for nude pictures, also known as sextortion, is a growing concern. Teenagers, often unaware of the potential consequences, might share intimate images only to find themselves blackmailed into providing more pictures or money to prevent the images from being shared publicly. This can lead to severe emotional distress and feelings of helplessness.

Furthermore, social media can expose teenagers to suicide ideation, self-harm and eating disorders. There are numerous accounts and posts that glorify and romanticise these harmful behaviours, making them seem like viable coping mechanisms for dealing with stress or emotional pain. Exposure to such content can normalise dangerous behaviours, leading to increased rates of self-harm, disordered eating and even suicidal thoughts among vulnerable teenagers.

The spotlight on mental health in the news

The conversation about teenagers' mental health and social media has gained considerable traction in the news, particularly in the UK. High-profile cases of cyberbullying and tragic stories of young lives lost to suicide have brought this issue to the forefront. In response, there has been a growing call for more stringent regulations on social media companies to protect young users. The UK government has been actively considering legislation that would require these companies to take greater responsibility for the content on their platforms.

Statistics paint a stark picture

Statistics on teenage mental health in the UK reveal a troubling trend. According to a report by the National Health Service (NHS), one in eight children and young people aged five to 19 had at least one mental disorder when assessed in 2017. The prevalence of emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression, has been rising, particularly among teenage girls.

Furthermore, a study conducted by the Education Policy Institute and The Prince's Trust found that the proportion of young people with probable mental health disorders has increased from 11.4% in 2017 to 13.6% in 2020. This increase coincides with the growing use of social media, highlighting the correlation between digital engagement and mental health issues.


Steps parents can take to protect and educate teenagers

As parents, it is crucial to take proactive steps to protect and educate our teenagers about the potential pitfalls of social media. Here are some strategies that can help:

Open communication

Encourage open and honest conversations about social media use and its effects. Make sure your teenager feels comfortable discussing their online experiences and any negative feelings they may have.

Set boundaries

Establish healthy boundaries for social media use. This could include setting time limits, designating tech-free times (such as during meals and before bedtime), and encouraging offline activities.

Educate about media literacy

Teach your teenager to critically evaluate the content they see online. Help them understand that social media often presents a distorted view of reality and that not everything they see is true or attainable.

Promote positive online behaviour

Encourage your teenager to use social media positively, such as by supporting their friends, sharing uplifting content and avoiding negative interactions.

Model healthy behaviour

Set a good example by managing your own social media use responsibly. Demonstrate the importance of balancing online and offline activities and maintaining a healthy relationship with technology.

Seek professional help if needed

If your teenager shows signs of significant distress or mental health issues, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Therapists and counsellors can provide valuable support and strategies to help them cope.


Protecting the mental health of our teenagers in the age of social media is a collective responsibility. By understanding the pressures that these platforms exert and taking proactive steps to mitigate their impact, we can help our young people navigate adolescence more healthily and resiliently. 

As a therapist, I urge parents to stay informed, remain vigilant and create an environment where teenagers feel supported and understood. Our collective efforts can make a significant difference in ensuring that our teenagers thrive both online and offline.


References

Royal Society for Public Health - The "Status of Mind" report on the impact of social media on young people's mental health.

Source: Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), "Status of Mind: Social Media and Young People's Mental Health and Wellbeing," 2017. Available at: RSPH Status of Mind Report

National Health Service (NHS) Report - Statistics on the prevalence of mental disorders among children and young people.

Source: National Health Service (NHS), "Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017," 2018. Available at: NHS Digital

Education Policy Institute and The Prince's Trust - Study on the mental health and well-being of young people.

Source: Education Policy Institute and The Prince's Trust, "Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in 2020," 2020. Available at: Education Policy Institute Report

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Guildford GU5 & GU2
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Written by Donna Morgan, SNR MNCS Accred ANXIETY, WOMENS HEALTH, CYPT TEENS, CBT EMDR
Guildford GU5 & GU2

Donna Morgan is a highly experienced Humanistic Mental Health Therapist with 26 years of practice. Her passion for helping individuals with their mental health has driven her to develop a compassionate and holistic approach to therapy. Donna firmly believes in treating each client as a unique individual and providing them with personalised support.

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