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6 Ways to Help Your Teens Cope With Social Media Stress

Maintaining a certain image isn't anything new for adolescents. What is new is having to think about it 24 hours a day.
03/13/2014 10:00am ET | Updated May 13, 2014
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Image, social strata, beauty, personality; for many teens, this is all being defined by their latest Instagram photo or the number of friends they have on Facebook. While cyberbullying and predators get the focus of our concern, the angst that arises upon simply opening up the latest social networking site increases stress and anxiety for teens who, by the way, have recently been identified as the most stressed people in America.

Seventy three percent of teens use social media. A recent study reveals that those high school students who spend the most time on social media are at a greater risk for behaviors such as eating problems, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, smoking and absenteeism from school. According to a new study by the APA on Stress in America, 39% of girls say how others perceive them on social media is a significant form of stress.

Despite the stress and anxiety that may be associated with it, social media is here to stay. To tell your teen they cannot log on is as archaic as telling Ren in "Footloose" that he could not listen to rock and roll. Through some basic education on the hidden dangers of social media, our teens can maintain their FB friendships without adding anxiety to an already stressful period of development.

Maintaining your Brand 24/7

Maintaining a certain image isn't anything new for adolescents. What is new is having to think about it 24 hours a day. When I was in high school, I worked hard to maintain a certain image during school hours or during social engagements. I worried about what I was going to wear, what I would talk about with my friends and what social events I would attend. This was stressful, and it still rings true today -- especially for teenage girls who place great value on social relationships. However, I didn't have to worry about wording the perfect post and responding to everyone else's posts four times an hour, every hour, during the school day, after school, on weekends and late into the night.

Now the pressure to stay in the right conversations and maintain the proper image on social media is present around the clock. This is problematic because when we are constantly on alert for new social media messages or worrying about how our own messages are received, our "primitive instinctive, fight or flight limbic system" is on high alert. While not physically as dangerous, this reaction in our brain is the same as being on constant alert for predators. It floods our brains with cortisol, again and again, until our systems are bathing in stress hormones.

Posting Perfection

Teens feel a tremendous amount of pressure to present the perfect brand of themselves in every post. (As adults we do this too, only posting the perfect pictures, in the most beautiful places with just the right outfits.) The stress produced from constantly trying to project an unrealistic and unachievable perception of perfection within your social network causes stress and anxiety and the constant juggling of these different media platforms to accomplish this pursuit can lead to depression.

Not only are the ones posting the beautified images of themselves caught up in this rat race, those viewing these perfect profiles are left wondering why they don't feel as happy as everyone else looks on Facebook. They can't help but to feel inadequate as they view page after page of these perfectly Photoshopped lives.

Multi-Tasking

While the act of simply being on social media sites can trigger stress in our brain, teens magnify the impact of the stress by engaging on these sites while also watching TV, doing their homework and checking their email at the same time. While being a good multi-tasker used to be a badge of honor to be highlighted on our resume, we now know that multi-tasking triggers significant stress in our brain.

Overall media use among youth has increased by 20% during the past decade, but multi-tasking -- simultaneously accessing two or more forms of media -- has increased by more than 119% in the same period. One study showed that those who have the highest level of media multi-tasking showed a 70% increase in self-reported depressive symptoms compared to the lowest level of multi-taskers.

Solutions

  1. Begin with yourself as a parent. Educate yourself as to what the latest social media sites are, and how they are used. Examine your own use of social media and note whether any of the above hidden dangers ring true for you.

  • Have a conversation with your entire family about social media. Take turns discussing what you like and dislike about social media without judgment. Repeat what you heard your teen say to ensure that you understand them correctly. Try to repeat their thoughts and concerns from your teen's perspective -- not yours. When teens feel like you understand them, they will be much more open to the conversation. Use this opportunity to raise the issue of whether social media can potentially distort either their or someone else's realistic picture of life and happiness.
  • Acknowledge the feelings that they have regarding how much they have to accomplish in a day. Add social media to that conversation so you can help them set realistic time parameters on their social media engagement.
  • Talk to your teen about how multi-tasking increases stress in the brain. Understand social media is important to your child and help them set up a schedule for homework, social media, and family time so they can focus on one thing at a time.
  • Remove the temptation at night. Keep phones and computers out of your child's bedrooms. If they tell you it is "just charging," let it charge in your room.
  • Finally, if your teen feels social media is stressing them out help them plan a social networking detox Find something else to replace time spent on social media sites, and join them in the activity.
  • Social networking is not all bad. These sites can enable teens to keep up with friends they may not see every day and can decrease feelings of isolation. Creating a profile or home page can foster creative expression. Social networking can allow teens the opportunity to discuss school assignments. While clearly there are dangers when teens become over invested in these sites, not allowing them to engage on these media sites is unrealistic for teens today. The key is to educate and create boundaries around their use.