Too much social media unhealthy for adolescents

A popular holiday gift can leave teenagers feeling less than popular and even depressed.

Cellphones and computer tablets are high on the gift-giving list during this holiday season. However, a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the use of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can increase the likelihood that a teenager will develop depression or anxiety.

The researchers coined the term, “Facebook depression” which is “defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites … and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents.”

While listing positive benefits of social media, such as improved communication abilities, strengthened relationships and new technology skills, the researchers also warned, “Preadolescents and adolescents who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky Internet sites and blogs for ‘help’ that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.”

When teenagers consistently see other people posting fun photos and describing exciting experiences, those teens can view themselves negatively by comparison. Similarly, teens can feel left out when their own posts do not receive “likes,” comments or “favorites.”

Dr. Ann Lagges, a clinical psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, said spending too much time on social media is not healthy for teenagers.

“Where we see problems is when use becomes excessive,” Lagges said. “If it becomes excessive it can start taking the place of real world social activity, school work, physical activities, sleep and other important aspects of life. It’s excessive if it starts to cause problems.”

Lagges added that social media also can exacerbate depression or anxiety that a teen already is experiencing offline.

“If someone is withdrawing socially and their only interaction with the outside world would be through social media, particularly with people they don’t know, they’re not getting the reality check that this person’s life is not as perfect as their Facebook or Instagram account would indicate,” Lagges explained.

“That potentially could cause a problem.”

While teens should watch how much time they spend on social media, they also should watch how that time is spent.

“Spending time on a site where you’re planning a civic engagement project with your peers using a Facebook private group is very different from spending time online

in a very violent video game,” said Dr. Megan Moreno, a principal researcher of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. “The quality of the time that you’re spending is a really important factor in influencing what the (emotional health) outcome is.”

Moreno said about one-fourth of teenagers use social media to express feelings of depression or anxiety. Moreno said these postings can have a positive result.

“We found that quite often those statements were accompanied by friends or peers providing comments or saying, ‘I’m heading over to check on you’ or ‘Are you doing OK?’ So we have seen social media as a place people will disclose when they’re struggling or when they need help, and quite often they get responses from peers that are supportive.”

Teenagers also can

benefit from taking a break.

Lagges has prescribed a “Facebook timeout” for some of her teen patients.

“Oh, absolutely,” Lagges declared. “Just taking a break from it and getting some of the other pieces of their life back online can help hit the reset button.”

Moreno concurs: “We did a study that found that taking just one week away from Facebook, people described less stress and less anxiety.”

Lagges recommends that parents stay engaged with their kids online with full access to all of their social media sites and knowledge of who the teens communicate with in cyberspace. Lagges also encourages parents and teens to put down their phones and talk with each other in person to strengthen their relationship.

Parents who use this old-

fashioned approach to expressing “like” and “favorite” can help their teens stay healthy while enjoying the benefits of social media.

Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.