Social Media, Anxiety and Teen Identity

How much do you think social media contributes to the formation of identity in our teens?

During the middle and high school years, teens are on the one-way highway to self-discovery. Self-identity, trying to figure out their place in social circles and friend groups, who they are and what they want to do, coupled with hormones…the teen years are one of the most challenging, yet awesome times in their lives.

As parents, we get to walk alongside them and see them sprout! Each day is an opportunity to discover something; each experience a new growth opportunity. When you’ve reached this phase in parenting, it’s truly as amazing as those first few years when they learned to sit up, crawl, walk and talk.

On the other side, we also get to witness the not so fun side and the stressful and potentially damaging reality from where they perceive and develop their self-worth: through the screen of their device.

The amount of time teens spend on screens is utterly staggering. The amount of time preparing and agonizing over the perfect post and then anticipating and processing the responses is equally shocking. And it’s all causing incredible levels of anxiety in our teens, especially those with ADHD.

What is causing the anxiety?

It’s the pressure of posting the right picture or text so they get over 100 likes…because anything else is not socially acceptable. It’s the time spent and number of pictures taken before they find the “right one” that will fill their self-esteem tank. And it’s the agony of knowing they may be tagged in a post that is not so flattering, yet is out there…out of their control. And it’s also that feeling of missing out when they see a post about an event they weren’t invited to but many friends are at.

Then there’s the increasing need for instant and constant gratification. The amount of time it takes for Instagram and Snapchat to post, share and update does little to help our teens refrain and use self-control. They are constantly on their device with anxious anticipation watching the number of likes increase with each refresh. Our teens are literally glued to their phones to secure their self-worth, rarely finding it out in the world.

While there may be a ton of validation for all those with great and seemingly “perfect” pictures boosting that teen into sudden popularity and a feeling of success and acceptance, there is another group of teens suffering anxiety and depression because of them. A post can trigger a ton of self-doubt and negative self-talk creating angst in their emotional state. One comment can make the difference in a teen’s ability to engage in groups or become reclusive and secluded. That’s the power (good and bad) of social media.

What can we do as parents?

Social media is here to stay – no one is denying that. As parents, we need to be extra diligent in connecting with our teens. Teens need a safe, nonjudgmental environment to share and express themselves. Sometimes they don’t need answers, they just need to be heard and listened to. By asking the appropriate questions, we can partner with them, listen to them and help them think through these pressing social situations which create anxiety and enter adulthood with a healthy sense of self.

With Much GrADDitude,