Sunday, July 22 2018 9:37

The Workings of Social Media and Teen Girls

Written by Dr. Meghan Tuohy Walls, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children

Teenage Girls are especially susceptible to Social Media. What can Parents do about it?

Social media is everywhere in the lives of teens, especially for girls. Teenage girls are using social media apps and websites daily—often many times a day. Recent studies show Snap Chat and Instagram are the most used of the vast array of apps available to today’s teens.

Almost 80% of teens surveyed by Common Sense Media admitted to checking their phones every hour. And 72% feel the need to respond to messages immediately. About half of the teens polled think they’re addicted to their mobile devices.

Social media works to reach every brain craving, while letting teens build social interactions and see new content on a regular basis.


Why Social Media?

It’s no surprise that social media is attractive to adolescents. It offers bright colors, novel material and constant social interactions. But, of course, it also comes with significant pitfalls—teasing, bullying, and the false perception of perfection.

As part of its development, the teen brain is constantly seeking novel experiences—driving fast, making choices to try substances, being curious about sex and attractive individuals. This developing brain gets a bad rap, though. The same teen brain that encourages behavior that can be risky is also learning from mistakes, solving problems, and figuring out how to be an adult during important formative years.

Social media certainly can serve positive purposes for teens including connecting with peers, allowing exploration of new positive content and ideas, and forging friendships. It also can help the development of social interactions. Not surprisingly, social media is often where conversation and development of some romantic relationships begin.

Another interesting and less often discussed teen use of social media is to obtain health information that often provides them with appropriate information they may not seek otherwise.


What Are Some Negative Effects?

Of course, the positive social interactions and learning are not the only effects on teens. Social media gets plenty of negative press related to bullying, and there are even some claims that social media interactions have driven teens (especially girls) to take their own lives. Some preliminary research suggests that for teens vulnerable to suicide, social media can heighten the risks.

Bullying and other negative interactions on social media can also negatively affect mood among teens. Some teens experience increased feelings of depression or anxiety after using social media. Recently, researchers coined the term “Facebook depression” for teens who spend a lot of time on social media and then develop symptoms consistent with clinical depression.

Since teen years are a time of susceptibility, vulnerability and identity seeking, it makes sense that teenage girls are seeking out role models—both physically and in other ways. And so many teens follow celebrities, athletes and models on social media. But because celebrities and models often use Photoshop and image-enhancing filters to perfect their photos, the social media posts present the effect of perfection—every post shows a slim, toned, stylishly dressed person with perfect hair and make up.

Social media offers these celebs and models—or so-called influencers—money to advertise products. And for a reason: their followers are striving to be like them. Some research suggests that teen girls who view these kinds of photos feel more poorly about themselves and have lower self-esteem.

Social media also leads to less sleep and teenage girls already get far less sleep than recommended because of busy schedules filled with homework, sports, activities, plus early school start times. In a recent study, not only were teens getting less sleep when using social media, but nighttime social media use resulted in poorer sleep quality.

In addition, the Internet is vast and there are risks on social media related to predators and people who are not who they say they are. Teenage girls may particularly be at risk, as these individuals often seek them out.


What Should Parents Do?

Once your daughter becomes a teenager, there are steps you can take to help her keep herself safe and knowledgeable on social media. Here are a few.

  • Be a Good Model: Make sure you aren’t overusing your own phone or on Facebook at 11 p.m. Show your teen what appropriate social media use looks like.
  • Start the Conversation: Talk about what your teen should do if she sees inappropriate content on social media, if she’s bullied, or is upset by something. Always discuss safety and the rules around communicating with strangers.
  • Create a Family Media Contract: Decide such things as how much time can your teen spend on her phone. What apps can she use? When will the whole family put away their phones? What happens if the rules are broken? Have specific time-based consequences for misusing the phone. If you plan to check your teen’s daily phone use, tell her! Honesty helps keep the door open for discussion of inappropriate use.
  • Secure Your Teen’s Phone: Make sure her phone is protected with secure passwords and protected Internet. You can also secure her phone and computer by putting parent controls on devices via apps such as NetNanny, Quostodio and Family Time.
  • Know the Hidden Apps: Some apps help kids hide information, texts, videos, etc. Find out what those apps are—they’re constantly changing, so you may need to do research. Some recent apps include: Vault, KeepSafe, Best Secret Folder and Hide It Pro.


Still Concerned?

If you’re ever concerned about your teen’s Internet use or overuse, talk to her* directly. If you believe she’s experiencing mental health concerns (anxiety, depression), talk to her pediatrician or a local behavioral health provider who can help your family navigate treatment options.

*Of course, these concerns about social media also apply to your sons.


Meghan Tuohy Walls, Psy.D., is a pediatric psychologist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and Nemours duPont Pediatrics, with a focus on the primary care setting. She also spends time working in the community via a grant, with efforts aimed at young child social/emotional wellness and school readiness. She completed her fellowship at Nemours, specializing in children with obesity, and her residency at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, working with children with chronic illness.