Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Help Your Teen Deal With Social Media Anxiety

Signs of Social Anxiety in Teens

June 01, 2021

Social Media Anxiety and Your Teenager: What to Look For and How to Help

Whether it’s a TikTok dance, a Snapchat post, or an Instagram selfie, your teenager and their friends are using social media sites to stay constantly connected to each other. As the parent of a teen, you may be wondering if all this online socializing is good for your child’s mental health or if social media anxiety might be a problem for them.

For some teens, social media can be a way to positively connect with friends and build a network of supportive, caring people. On the other hand, negative posts and messages are hard to avoid online, and too much time spent on social media can cause anxiety, especially for young adults who already struggle with anxiety in social situations.

If you aren’t sure what kind of social media life your teenager enjoys, the behavioral health professionals at Elk River Treatment Program for teens recommend that you find out more about the anxiety caused by social media and think about how your teen uses social media sites.

It’s Not All Bad: Healthy Social Media Habits

The in-person interactions your teenager has with their group of friends is complicated and can have highs and lows, and it’s no different when they’re using an app on their phone. Social media can help teens feel more connected to their friends with positive comments, chats, and likes boosting those feelings of belonging.

Think back to your own teenage years. You may have spent hours on the telephone in the evening with your friends, a long curlicued cord snaking under your door so you could have a little privacy from your family.

Similarly, your teen is using texting, social media posts, and shared videos to stay in touch with their friends and build stronger relationships. Strong, healthy friendships can prevent depression and ease anxiety, so you want to see your teen connected to a strong circle of supportive friends who may occasionally use social media sites to interact.

How Social Media Can Lead to Anxiety in Teens

The key here is the type of social media experience your teen experiences. Since the online world of social media is more complex than a direct phone line, you may need to consider whether social media could be causing anxiety for your teenager. While research suggests that positive interactions and social support on social media are related to lower levels of anxiety, the opposite is also true. Especially for teens who are already suffering from depression or anxiety, social media can increase their feelings of isolation and disconnectedness.

For example, when someone writes a negative comment on your teen’s post or if your child even reads negative posts by other people, those messages can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation. When no one comments or likes their video, they may perceive that their friends don’t care about them. When they see their friends posting about a fun day they’ve had or celebrities sharing pictures of their glamorous life, your teen might compare their own day or lifestyle and find it lacking. Or when your child’s friends make a TikTok video together or share a picture from a concert they went to together, your teen might feel left out.

All of these examples: perceived lack of social support, negative social comparison, and fear of missing out can cause anxiety for your teen, especially if they are dedicating a lot of time to social media sites and place a high level of importance on their social media life. Several research studies tell us that increasing the amount of time you spend on social media could in turn increase your levels of anxiety.

Identifying Social Media Anxiety in Your Teen

So what can you do as a parent? The specialists at Elk River recommend that you check your teen’s social media accounts. You are looking for signs that tell you what kind of social media life your child has and whether it could be a source of anxiety for them.

Questions you can ask include:

  • How much time does my teen spend on social media sites?
  • How frequently does my child use their social media accounts?
  • Do they interact with their friends on social media or do they seem to just read other people’s posts without commenting or reacting to anything?
  • Are there negative comments or even bullying in my teen’s posts?
  • Has my child suddenly stopped interacting with their friends on social media?
  • Has my child suddenly started obsessing about their social media circle?

You can answer a lot of these questions by looking at your teen’s social media presence. You should have logins for all of the social media networks that your child uses, and as their parent, you should be able to see all of their posts. You can have a conversation with your teenager about their social media circle.

Ask your teen:

  • How do you feel when your friends respond to your posts with positive comments and likes?
  • Do your friends ever leave you negative messages? How do you feel when you see them?
  • Are most of your friends on social media also your friends in real life?
  • How many celebrities do you follow? Are you jealous of their lifestyle?
  • Do you compare yourself to others when you see their posts online?
  • When you are finished scrolling through your feed, how do you feel about yourself? About your friends?

A Healthy Plan: Helping Your Teen Deal With Social Media Anxiety

If you find that your teen is experiencing anxiety from social media, ask them what they think they could do to ease those feelings. While you may want to make a plan for them, the mental health professionals at Elk River recommend allowing teens to search for solutions to social media anxiety independently. That way, they’ll feel more ownership of the plan and be more likely to choose to implement healthy social media practices.

A healthy plan for your teen’s social media circle might include:

  • Commenting on at least one friend’s post every day
  • Unfollowing celebrities whose posts lead to negative feelings for your teen
  • Setting a limit for how much time your teen spends on social media
  • Joining a social media group whose members share your teen's interests
  • Taking a break from social media for a day, a weekend, or even a full week

A strong social network with supportive friends is healthy for your teenager and will help them have a more positive, fulfilled life. Social media sites can be a place where young adults connect to their friends and support each other. They can talk about events that happened in their day, plan times to hang out together or create groups around their shared interests.

However, as we all know, not every interaction among teens, even friends, is positive. For teens who may already have anxiety, social media can make them feel even worse when they see negative messages or are even bullied online. Like with everything else in your teen’s life, it’s important to check in with your teenager to find out if social media use increases their anxiety. Especially if your teen already has social anxiety, you should provide guidance and support for finding a healthy balance in their social media circle.