The next generation will enter adulthood wired by life online. There are plenty of debates about the effects of social media on tweens and teens. While scientists work to figure out exactly what all of today’s technology is doing to our bodies and brains, the Smart Social team believes social media has turned into an unhealthy obsession for society. We want to help parents and educators understand how big the online addiction problem is, so we can all work together to help kids around the world stay safe and healthy from the negative effects of social media.

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The negative effects of social media

RSPH and the Young Health Movement (YHM) published a report examining the positive and negative effects of social media on young people’s health, including a list of social media platforms according to their impact on young people’s mental health.

Study reveals that social media leads to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness

“Too few of us are paying attention to how our teenagers’ use of technology—much more intense and intimate than a 3-year-old playing with dad’s iPhone—is affecting them. In fact, experts worry that the social media and text messages that have become so integral to teenage life are promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem.”

Source: Child Mind Institute

Current research suggests that the negative effects of social media feel bigger than the positive effects

“Read enough of the current research and you’ll find that the negatives tend to feel bigger than the positives. While teens can use social media to connect and create friendships with others, they also confront cyberbullying, trolls, toxic comparisons, sleep deprivation, and less frequent face-to-face interactions, to name a few.

Too much time spent scrolling through social media can result in symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.”

Source: Psycom

Best & worst social media apps for teens’ mental health

Best social media apps

Worst social media apps

Our founder, Josh Ochs believes there are FOUR Cs to social media

The good parts of social media are:

Connecting – when we use social media for connecting, we are growing our network of real people and helping to be more social. We are using social media as a tool to be more interactive with people

Communication – When we communicate (by direct messaging or emailing people) to invite them to events or ask them questions, we are interacting in a positive way and using our devices with a purpose.

The BAD parts of social media are:

Comparing – When we compare ourselves to others (the way they look, where they go on vacation or who they are dating) we are comparing ourselves to them. This causes anxiety and depression.

Consuming – When we have a spare moment in line at the bank, or we are bored in the passenger seat in the car, we might open our phone to check our instagram feed. This is us filling the spaces by consuming other people’s social media with the endless feed on Instagram/Snap/Facebook, etc. Consumption robs us of great ideas, interactions and makes us less focused.

Negative effects of social media

Anxiety & depression:
Research suggests that young people who spend more than 2 hours per day on social media are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression).

Numerous studies have shown that increased social media use has a significant association with poor sleep quality in young people. Using phones, laptops, and tablets at night before bed is also linked with poor quality sleep.

Body image:
Body image is an issue for many young people, both male and female. Studies have shown that when women in their teens and early twenties view Facebook for only a short period of time, body image concerns are higher compared to non-users.

Bullying during childhood is a major risk factor for a number of issues including mental health, education and social relationships, with long-lasting effects often carried right through to adulthood.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO):
FOMO has been robustly linked to higher levels of social media engagement, meaning that the more an individual uses social media, the more likely they are to experience FOMO.

Positive effects of social media

Access to expert health info:
Social networking offers young people who may be suffering from mental health issues an opportunity to read, watch or listen to, and understand, the health experiences of others – relating them back to their own reality.

Emotional support:
Conversations on social media can emerge and provide young people with essential interaction to overcome difficult health issues, particularly when they may not have access to that support face-to-face.

Community building:
The community building aspect of social media is also distinctly positive for many young people. By joining ‘groups’ or ‘pages’ young people can surround themselves with like-minded people and share their thoughts or concerns.

Self-expression and self-identity are important aspects of development throughout the teen years. Social media can act as an effective platform for positive self-expression, letting teens put forward their best self.

Building upon relationships:
There is evidence to suggest that strong adolescent friendships can be enhanced by social media interaction, allowing young people to create stronger bonds with people they already know.

Teen social media statistics

  • 91% of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking
  • Social media use is linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep
  • Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol

The negative effects of social media in the news:

“Social media addiction is a mental health problem… Excessive usage [is] linked to relationship problems, worse academic achievement and less participation in offline communities.” –BBC

“The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned about the potential for negative effects of social media in young kids and teens, including cyber-bullying.” –Forbes

“Survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.” –Child Mind Institute

“Too much passive use of social media – just browsing posts – can be unhealthy and has been linked to feelings of envy, inadequacy and less satisfaction with life. Studies have even suggested that it can lead to ADHD symptoms, depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation. ” –UNICEF

What age should a student be on social media?

  • Ages 0-13 – Private
  • Age 12 – Have a family discussion regarding what your student’s online brand should look like
  • Age 13 – Social media signed contract
  • Age 13-15 – Build a personal portfolio and start putting positive volunteer photos online. Then get on Instagram as an extension of the personal brand
  • Age 14-15 – Publish the portfolio as a website so it improves your student’s Google results
  • Age 17 – Colleges should be able to find a positive online footprint for your student

When should I give my kids a cell phone?

Our suggestions:

  • Ages 0-10 – No phone
  • Ages 10-13 – Flip phone (SMS/text, phone calls)
  • Age 13 – Cell phone safety contract
  • Age 14 – Smartphone (without social media apps installed)
  • Age 15 – Smartphone (with social media apps installed)

What can parents do to keep their children safe from the negative effects of social media?

  • Start a dialog about social media with your kids at a young age and talk regularly
  • Ensure your children are equipped with the relevant skills to be able to navigate social media
  • Lead by example and model positive behaviors for your child
  • Teach students that social media can and should be utilized as a tool for good
  • Ensure your children are equipped with the relevant skills to be able to navigate social media
  • Consider joining Parent University to get videos you can watch WITH your children. These videos will start a healthy dialog that will keep them safe and smart online
  • Remind students that they can always come to you or a trusted adult if they ever need help
  • Wait until your child has shown that they can handle the responsibility of using social media before letting them set up their first profile
  • When you’re ready for your child to be online, read our Parent App Guide page to learn how teens can use social media safely


Society’s obsession with social media isn’t going away any time soon. It’s the job of parents and educators to teach kids about these negative effects before they become addicted. If you need help talking with your kids about the dangers of social media and how they can use it in a positive way, we have some talking points for you here.

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