Guidelines and Concerns about Adolescent Social Media Use

Only two decades ago, it would have been unheard of for a thirteen-year-old to have their own cell-phone. Now over 2/3 of today’s teenagers use phones to text their friends daily! Social media use is nearly universal for today’s teenagers in the United States, with Facebook being the most commonly used social media website. All these new connections available to teens pose important questions for parents. Thankfully, social media websites can provide teenagers with many positive benefits. However, research shows that there are many concerns for parents to be aware of when their child begins using social media accounts and gets their first cellphone.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that professionals be aware of the following issues and facts when working with adolescents and young adults, regarding social media use:

  • Adolescents and young adults can benefit from the use of social media in multiple facets of their lives, including personal, social, and physical aspects.” Some of these include information on health and medicine, connection to friends and family, opportunities for creativity and discussion.
  • “Victims of cyberbullying and those who engage in sexualized text communication (sexting) are at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.” One study reports that 20-40% of teens have been victims of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is linked to other issues like depression, suicide, health problems and poor school performance.
  • ‘The adverse health risks of Internet addiction.” Many teens would describe themselves as “addicted” to their cell phone or to a social media site, such as Facebook. Bailin, Milanaik, and Adesman (2014) define internet addiction as “uncontrollable use of the Internet that results in excessive time consumption or social dysfunction.” This can operate like any other addiction and lead to emotional issues, relationship problems, and reduced achievement.
  • “Sleep problems due to use of electronic media.” Excessive use of technology can get in the way of sleep for teens. In addition, studies show that the light from the screens of technological devices impedes sleep when used at night. It can disturb the body’s natural circadian rhythms by preventing the normal release of the chemical melatonin, a chemical involved in the body being able to sleep. This can cause problems with falling asleep and sleeping through the night.
  • “The consequences of exposure to online pornography.” 70% of teenagers from age 15-17 reported unintentional exposure to online pornography. Pornography is linked to detrimental psychological effects and difficulties forming healthy relationships, as well as the likelihood to engage in aggressive and risk-taking sexual behavior.
  • “The legal, social, and psychological risks of sexting.” Teens that participate in sexting not only are more at risk for dangerous sexual behavior, but may affect their chances for being hired or accepted into college programs because of their “digital footprint.”

In 2012, Common Sense Media conducted a large, nationally-representative study of teenagers’ perceptions of how social media impacts them. The study found that, overall, the majority of teenagers surveyed felt that their use of social media had a positive impact on their social lives and emotional health, although a few reported negative emotional effects. Some highlights from the study findings are:

  • About 10% of the teens were classified as more depressed, based on their responses. These “less happy teens” were more likely to feel anxiety if their posts on social media did not receive “likes”, to feel worried about how they appear online, and feel left out when viewing the photos of others’ exciting events. Only 5% of those that used social media said that it made them “more depressed.” Only 4% said it made them feel “less confident” and “less popular.”
  • When asked what was their favorite method of communicating with friends, the highest percentage of teens said face-to-face communication, with texting coming in as second. The most often given reasons for why they preferred face to face communication were: “It’s more fun” and “I can understand what people mean better.”
  • Almost 45% of the participants said that they “sometimes get frustrated with their friends for texting, surfing the Internet, or checking their social network sites while hanging out together. 21% said that they wished that their parents would spend less time on their cell phones and other mobile devices.

These results can provide some comfort to parents; At least most teenagers don’t see social media as something that makes them feel worse about themselves or more depressed. They seem to have mixed feelings about social media in their interactions with friends, with some expressing a desire for their peers to be less distracted.

As parents, we need to be aware that the internet can be a tool to help our children or a source of danger. Social media itself is not any more harmful to teenagers than other facets of their lives, but it seems that excessive use and lack of protection from inappropriate and harmful media can put teens at risk.

For more information:

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Agosto, D., Abbas, J. (Apr. 2016). Simple tips for helping students become safer, smarter social media users. 44(4). In Knowledge Quest. Retrieved from:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Adolescent Health Care. (Feb. 2016). Concerns regarding social media and health issues in adolescents and young adults. Retrieved from:

Bailin A, Milanaik R, Adesman A. (2014). Health implications of new age technologies for adolescents: a review of the research. Curr Opin Pediatrics ;26:605–19.

Common Sense Media. (Jun 26, 2012). Social media, social life: how teens view their digital lives. Retrieved from:

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