Does Social Media Affect Mental Health for Teens?

For decades, researchers have been studying the effect of mainstream media on youth. Today, teenagers called “digital natives”—those who were born with technology at arms reach—are experiencing mental health challenges stemming from their time spent online.

While social media is a place to connect, cultivate communities and be “social,” there are potentially negative health effects that can arise from spending too much time on the many social platforms that exist today.

What the Research is Saying

Studies have shown correlations between time spent on social media and an increase with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. One UCLA study found that getting ‘likes’ on a photo triggers the brains reward center. Others from the University of Pittsburgh found correlations with negative body image, lack of sleep, and depression.

Top Social Media Issues Causing Mental Health Challenges

1) Cyberbullying

According to, more than half of teenagers have been bullied online. Studies also show that teens who have been the victim of cyberbullying are more likely than their peers to have low self esteem and suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, social media platforms are often the medium for online bullying.

2) More Connection, Less Human Connection

While the premise of social media is that it connects people to one another, it can ironically be isolating at the same time. With prolonged and frequent use, it is possible that teens become disconnected from healthier habits in their lives.

“Social media itself doesn’t cause harm,” says Russell Viner of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, “but frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping and exercising.”

3) Comparisons

The seemingly positive posts we see on our peers’ social media feeds have ironically been linked to an increase in self-esteem issues, narcissism, envy, anxiety, and depression. In fact, 60% of people on social media report it has negatively affected their self esteem.

What you typically see online is a highlight reel of people’s best moments—vacations, filtered selfies, new cars. If too much time is spent online, reality eventually begins to distort itself and teens often find themselves comparing their lives to the highlight reel of another, which can be detrimental to self-image.

4) Maintaining a Healthy Balance

Like all things in life, social media is all about balance. Here are a few things to have your teens practice with social media:

  • Know how to unplug: During vacation? School? Past a certain time in the evening? Set boundaries with your teens and help them understand why they matter.
  • Limit time spent: Smart phones have settings that can set a limit on screen time. Limiting usage to a reasonable amount of time each day is a good place to start.
  • Keep up social activities:Maintaining extra-curriculars such as a team sport, part-time job or other social activities is a healthy way to ensure your teen stays in touch with peers.
  • Seeking help for mental health issues:If your child is experiencing low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, there are resources to help including support groups and counselling.

If you or your teen is suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, seeking help from a counsellor may be your next step in returning to a healthy, balanced life. Give us a call today for a free consultation and we will work towards building the positive behaviours you need to get there.


  1. Sherman, Lauren, et al, “The Power of the Like in Adolescence: Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media,” Psychological Science, May (2016), Vol 27, Issue 7.
  2. Sidani, J., et al, “The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among US Young Adults,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, September (2016), Volume 116, Issue 9: Pages 1465–1472.
  3. Levenson, JC, et al, “Social Media Use Before Bed and Sleep Disturbance Among Young Adults in the United States: A Nationally Representative Study,” Sleep, 2017 Sep 1;40(9).