How Social Media Harms Mental Health

Photo from Pricilla du Preez via Unsplash

How Social Media Harms Mental Health

By Movieguide® Contributor

Social media is commonplace today, but do we really understand how screen time impacts mental health?

Dr. Logan Winkelman, a counselor at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, said that even though mindless social media scrolling might seem harmless, it actually produces negative effects on mental health.

“We may not be engaging in other activities, or it [screen time] could be a coping mechanism, and that could lead to other things like anxiety and depression,” Dr. Winkelman said.

This, along with the fact that teens, on average, spend nearly eight hours on screens every day, explains the skyrocketing rates of mental health issues among young people.

A study by The Yale School of Medicine “found that youth who spent the most time on their digital technology were statistically more likely to exhibit higher internalizing problems two years later. Internalizing problems include depression, anxiety, social anxiety, somatic complaints, and other concerns. This association between frequent screen time and mental health problems was mediated by specific changes in brain development.”

“We had hypothesized findings of this sort, the relationship between high-frequency screen media activity and both internalizing and externalizing behaviors. We’re in a stage of understanding better brain-behavior relationships relating to screen media activity given substantial changes in how youth use digital technologies,” said Marc Potenza, MD, PhD, Albert E. Kent Professor of Psychiatry and professor in the Child Study Center and of neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine.

From mental health struggles to sleep problems, excessive screen time and social media continue to detrimentally affect young people.

Adventist Health reported a few of social media’s impacts:

  • Bullying: In 2021, 16 percent of high school students said they were bullied through text messaging or social media in the past year.
  • Body image: About 1 in 3 girls say they feel bad about their bodies at least once a week when using TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.
  • Sleep: When teens stay up late staring at phones and other screens, the blue light that is emitted inhibits their bodies from secreting melatonin and they get less REM sleep, which can affect short-term memory.
  • Depression: In 2019, 1 in 3 high school students in the U.S. reported within the last year, they had felt so sad or hopeless, they couldn’t take part in their normal activities. That’s a 40 percent increase from 2009, a spike that could correlate to the rise in social media over the past decade.
  • Anxiety: Nearly half of teens surveyed about an increase in anxiety, stress and depression blame their overuse of social media.

It is important to know the effects screen time can have on children and teenagers so that parents can limit the amount of screen time their child has per day.

Movieguide® previously reported on how parents can help limit their children’s screen time:

As studies continue to discover how screen time detrimentally affects children, many parents are looking for ways to limit their kids’ use of the technology…

Set Screen Time Limits: Establish clear and consistent screen time limits for different activities, such as TV, video games, and social media. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children aged 2 to 5 years should have no more than one hour of high-quality screen time per day, and children under 18 months should avoid screen time altogether.

Create Screen-Free Zones: Designate specific areas in your home, such as the dining room or bedrooms, where screens are not allowed. This helps prevent screens from intruding on family time and sleep.

Be a Role Model: Children often emulate the behavior of adults. If you want your child to spend less time on screens, be a positive role model by reducing your own screen time and engaging in non-screen activities.

Provide Alternative Activities: Encourage your child to engage in alternative activities like reading, outdoor play, creative arts and crafts, or board games. Make these activities readily available and appealing.

Plan Screen Time: Instead of allowing unrestricted screen access, plan screen time as a part of your child’s daily routine. Set specific times for screen use, such as after homework or chores are completed.