Social Media and Mental Health in Teenagers – Summary of Presentation at Kenmore SHS by Dr Peta Lilley

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) published results from their 2015 “Stress and Wellbeing Survey” and reported that adolescents spend an average of 2.7 hours per day on social media (adults 2.1 hours). 56% of teenagers endorsed engaging in “Heavy use” and 25% were constantly connected. There are many benefits associated with social media use including the social interaction, ability for teenagers to express their creativity, easy accessibility and affordability and it can sometimes be used as a means of managing stress. There is also, however, a darker side to social media use, especially for teenagers. The not so positive aspects of social media for teenagers includes a correlation between stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression with hours of social media use. This usually is a result of difficulty in relaxing and falling asleep after use and the constant need to feel connected and included. The huge reach, impact and endurance of social media can immeasurably effect a teenager’s reputation. The way in which social media is used in isolation, with 24/7 access, anonymity and its affordability, can all lead to space perfect for cyberbullying, online grooming and predation, and early exposure to pornography.
Adolescence is a time of great change in which peer acceptance and influence increases and executive functioning develops. The inappropriate use of Social Media can lead to many consequences. 1 in 4 young people are diagnosed with a mental health condition. Due to new and changing regulations, there is a risk for teenagers and young people regarding involvement and prosecution under child pornography laws. Therefore, guidance from adults is essential while decision-making circuitry is forming.
There are several social media tips and strategies which can help parents and guardians support and protect young people. These include: understanding the technology your children use; knowing what devices, apps and accounts your child has; creating social media accounts of your own and have your child as a friend/follower; checking privacy settings and monitor them as they change regularly; teaching teenagers how to protect their online identity and security (e.g., locations, photos, friends).
There are several other online safety strategies centred around trust building, education and communication. These strategies include; teaching young people not to respond to negative messages and how to capture evidence of cyberbullying/inappropriate use; exploring the internet with young people; finding appropriate sites and bookmarking; encouraging them to close sites that make them feel uncomfortable; reassuring them that they won’t lose internet access if they report inappropriate content; using a central docking station for all devices; time limits on use; and enabling parental monitoring. The best approach is to be proactive and establish clear and agreed upon rules for your child’s internet and social media use. For more information, check out:
If you are worried about a young person there are some signs to be aware of and are cause for consideration. These include: persistent and significant change in behaviour, personality or mood, withdrawal, change in school performance/grades, school refusal, and monitoring online behaviour such as excessive use, in secret, and late at night. If you are concerned, there are a number of people you can speak to including the child’s parents/teachers/school and others involved with the child, your GP, local community health centre, mental health advice lines, the Police if indicated, or a Psychologist (there doesn’t have to be a diagnosis to warrant seeking assistance and guidance). Parents can also encourage young people to look after one’s health, sleep, exercise, engage in mental activity, promote a good diet, reduce stress and build meaningful relationships.

About the Author: Peta Lilley

Peta completed the Clinical Psychology PhD Program within the School of Psychology, The University of Queensland (UQ). The focus of her research was the development of emotional and behavioural difficulties (particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD) in children and adolescents following trauma. Peta has also completed a post-doctoral research fellow position in the School of Medicine at UQ.

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