Social media is fueling a mental health crisis in teenage girls

Being a teenager is hard — balancing schoolwork, extracurricular activities, friends, and family while developing a sense of self. Though these years can be exciting, they can also be a source of significant stress, which can negatively impact teen mental health.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that teenage girls are experiencing record levels of sadness and hopelessness – a 60 percent increase since 2011. As a result, nearly 30 percent of teenage girls have considered suicide, and 13 percent have attempted it.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has labeled young people’s declining mental health as “the defining public health crisis of our time,” stating that children under 14 years of age should not use social media. Although these statistics are alarming, there are lots of ways that adults can support teens during these tough times.

The Role of Social Media

Most teenagers are influenced by their peers, but teen girls have higher tendencies to develop their identity and sense of self based on how others view them. With social media, the cycle of peer pressure is constant.

While social media is not the only cause for this mental health crisis, it is a big part of the problem. Comparing yourself with others is a natural human behavior, but social media intensifies comparison culture, with most girls going to great lengths to portray themselves in the best possible light.

In addition, nearly 54 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 have experienced some form of cyberbullying, including rumors, physical threats, and stalking. And at a time when judgment is not yet matured, private social interactions between teens can turn into ongoing online public humiliation.

In the past decade, teens have seen most of their world become virtual, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. Teens today often spend more time socializing online than in person. Many consider their online success a reflection of their popularity, attractiveness, and self-worth.

“There are a few factors that are affecting the mental health of teenage girls, and social media is certainly a part of it,” says Michael Marcsisin, MD, Medical Director for Behavioral Health at Independence Blue Cross. “When the apps are designed to keep you engaged, users are going to continue seeing certain content, even if it is content that’s negatively affecting them. Going through adolescence is already tough enough, so when faced with constant comparison, it can definitely have a negative effect.”

To become more aware about how social media may be affecting your child, you should:

  • Ask about the types of online content they watch.
  • Be clear about what you consider appropriate for them to share online.
  • Learn how to navigate their favorite apps and social media platforms.

How to Tell if a Teen Needs Support

During the teenage years, it is common for a child to pull away from their parents and caregivers as they develop their own sense of self. However, that distance can also make it challenging to identify when a teen needs help.

“Talking to other parents can be helpful,” says Dr. Marcsisin. “Understanding what is normal behavior in your child’s social circle, academic expectations, and activities can be a good indicator of your teen’s mental health, even if they may not share directly with you. It can be helpful to understand their behavior relative to their social circle to identify when they might need support,” he adds. “It’s okay to allow space for your teen to figure out who they are, but if you notice significant changes in behavior, like a lack of interest in normal activities or not wanting to attend school, try to talk to your teen.”

Role Models Set Good Examples

It’s crucial for teens to know they have someone to talk to if they feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. Parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, or other trusted adults can provide a reliable support system for teens.

In the meantime, boost your teen’s resilience by encouraging them to spend time with trusted friends. Celebrate their unique talents and achievements and validate their feelings. Providing a balanced perspective on navigating life’s ups and downs can also be helpful.

One of the most effective techniques parents and caregivers can use is leading by example. When teens see adults taking care of their mental health through exercise, therapy, or spending time with friends, they are more likely to model that behavior. In general, teens are more likely to seek help when parents encourage healthy behaviors, talk honestly about mental health, and are open to treatment and resources that support better mental health.

“It is hard to be completely immune to the pressures that come with adolescence like hormone changes, self-identity development, and social standards,” says Dr. Marcsisin. “With the right support, we can help teens be aware of these challenges and develop a positive self-image.”

For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.

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