August 9, 2019
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Brian Amorello, Ph.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.
Eric C. Alcera, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.
By Katie Lynch
In an age where people are more connected than ever, how is it that 31% of teenagers in the U.S. report feeling lonely, hopeless or depressed?
Shouldn’t our constant communication and connection through social media and apps leave us feeling strengthened in our relationships?
Unfortunately, studies have proven that social media use is directly correlated to depression and anxiety.
Eric Alcera, M.D., a psychiatrist who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry at Riverview Medical Center and Brian Amorello, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist at Hackensack University Medical Center provide some insight on what teens are experiencing and how parents can help them reduce the chances of experiencing depression or anxiety related to social media.
“This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use social media, as it does offer both teens and adults social benefits,” shares Dr. Alcera. “But it does mean that parents and guardians should be aware of how these tools may negatively impact teens, and how to discuss these issues with your kids.”
What are teens feeling?
“FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out)
Did you see what Jake posted last night?
On average, kids and teens are spending anywhere from six to nine hours looking at screens.
“There’s a lot of phone usage and screen time among teens, and I’ll have parents who’ll say their child isn’t allowed to use their phone until their homework is finished,” says Dr. Amorello. “But guess what? Now he’s rushing through his homework.”
“Kids aren’t practicing mindfulness in their homework or in their daily lives because they’re worried about what they’re missing on social media,” Dr. Amorello explains.
I can’t believe they’re hanging out without me…
“It’s a very different world that we live in now – kids are exposed to what their peers are doing more than we were ‘back in the day’,” Dr. Amorello reflects.
“I’ve had patients who incessantly check SnapChat to see what a group of girls are doing. Are they hanging out without her? Did they lie to her about where they were going?” says Dr. Amorello. “Adults are much better at not posting things publicly if they didn’t invite certain people, but teens – not so much.”
They like all of Erica’s posts, why don’t they like mine?
“With everything measured in likes, comments and shares, kids are constantly comparing themselves to one another,” says Dr. Alcera.
“They’ll pay close attention to the fact that someone is commenting on all of their friend’s photos or posts, but neglecting to leave comments on theirs. This close eye on behaviors leaves a lot of room for aggression, disagreement or frustration.”
My life is so boring… If only I was more like Johnny.
“It’s great to encourage your kids to build connections with friends and express themselves creatively, but make sure you sit down and explain to your child that what they’re seeing online is a curated version of reality,” says Dr. Amorello.
“Let them know they’re only seeing the parts of someone’s life that they want to be seen – most people won’t post when they’re miserable. You don’t know what’s happening when Johnny’s not posting, so don’t take his social media page to be a snapshot of reality.”
How can parents and guardians help?
We need to recognize that kids are more vulnerable to depression or anxiety with social media use.
Start Conversations Early
“My advice to parents is to start having conversations about social media at a young age. The younger you have these conversations, the easier it’ll be for them to understand why there are rules or limitations with social media use,” advises Dr. Amorello.
Check In Often and Ask Questions
You should monitor your child’s activity and check in often.
“If your son is posting videos of himself playing guitar, that is fine, but make sure you check in to ask if he ever feels sad while using social media. Or try a broader question like, ‘how do you feel when you’re on social media?’ Parents think kids won’t talk to them, but sometimes they just need to ask the right questions,” Dr. Alcera notes.
Stay in Touch with Reality
Teens are really talented at storytelling and expressing themselves on social media, and it can be a great outlet for them to do so. However, there’s so much more to a child’s life than what is seen on social media.
“If your child is raised with an understanding of social media depictions versus reality, and the importance of limitations, they’ll be less likely to develop depression or anxiety,” Dr. Amorello adds.
Always remind your child that what they see online isn’t a full view of reality, and that there’s a lot to be grateful for ‘offline’.
Dr. Eric Alcera is a psychiatrist based in Shrewsbury, NJ and specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry. He is the associate corporate medical director of Hackensack Meridian Behavioral Health Services.
Dr. Brian Amorello is a licensed counseling psychologist at the Neuroscience Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center. He specializes in working with patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, concussion or other neurological disorders, and focuses on the mental health side of their physical illness.
Learn more about Hackensack Meridian Health’s Behavioral Health Services.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.