social media anxiety

Is social media causing anxiety among young people?

A report from The Child Mind Institute, one of the leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to child mental health and brain development, suggests it does.

According to the report, 97% of participants indicated that they used social media and 47% percent of participants were classed as anxious.

The risk is even greater among teens. According to Common Sense Media’s, Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences report sheds light on teens’ changing social media habits and why some kids are more deeply affected by — and connected to — their digital worlds. The report surveyed more than 1,000 kids age 13 to 17. The research gives some shocking insight into the effect of social media on anxiety and the long term effect this can have on young people.

High-level results
  • 70% of all respondents report sometimes say they have felt left out or excluded
  • 35% have experienced cyberbullying
  • 30% of children and adolescents will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder
  • 80% of children and adolescents will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder will never get help

The research highlights the rising use of the internet as a tool to intimidate and abuse others, with social media being the most popular platform to do this.

Instagram, one of the most popular social networking sites according to research by Bitdefender, is the most popular platform for cyberbullying, with 40% of youngsters experiencing cyberbullying on the app. Bullying on Instagram often comes in the form of abusive comments on an image shared by another person. The next most popular site for cyberbullying is Facebook, with 31% of young people surveyed experiencing cyberbullying on the platform, tied with Snapchat with 31%.

Young people use social media for instant gratification and so it is easy to acknowledge that when this attention turns negative, it could cause psychological effects. 70% of youngsters surveyed admitted to using social media multiple times a day, with a high percentage admitting to seeking popularity through followers which in turn gives them more confidence. Dramatically, the constant need for gratification and ‘likes’ would leave 43% of participants feeling upset if they posted a selfie which wasn’t liked by others.

Social media, particularly image sharing sites like Instagram and Snapchat, has opened up a world where people can curate their ideal image of life, sharing images and stories that make their lives look more exciting than they actually are in real life. 20% of those surveyed admitted they do this, but in turn, this can create a complex for those who feel inadequate or unable to compete with what is an unrealistic vision of life.

Cyberbullying can have drastic effects on young people, not just causing anxiety, but also resulting in personal physical harm. Of the participants surveyed, they confessed that cyberbullying had the following impact on them:

  • 29% had sleep problems
  • 33% had symptoms of depression
  • 15% had attempted suicide
  • 30% developed an eating disorder

This is a scary landscape for students and can create long term mental health problems that can affect them long into adult life. Common Sense Media president, Jim Steyer, told The Child Mind Institute: “There is a deeper issue here that begs a more nuanced understanding. On the one hand, it’s certainly possible that vulnerable teens’ experiences online are leading them to be more depressed, anxious, or isolated. But at the same time, teens who are already experiencing mental health problems are finding support and resources online, particularly from communities and others who struggle with similar problems. ”

What can we do to help?

It is clear that social networking sites and apps can do more to aid in the prevention of cyberbullying. 54% of the participants said if parents knew what actually happens on social media, they’d be a lot more worried about it, and 68% of participants, regardless of whether they use social media themselves, agree with the statement “Social media has a negative impact on many people my age”.

As a parent, it’s important you understand the age restrictions on social media, and only give access to your children once they are legally allowed. Talk to your children about the dangers of social media and cyberbullying, and make sure you create an environment where they feel communication is open enough to confess if they are being bullied or bullying another.

As a young person, know that many people like to use an alter-ego online, yourself possibly included, but this doesn’t translate into real life. Cyberbullies hide behind the use of the internet, and if you put a stop to it, through reporting them online and telling an adult, it’s likely the abuse will stop.

As a teacher, be aware of the long term effects cyberbullying can have on a young person. If they start becoming withdrawn and spending less time on their phone and with others, this could be a warning sign of a victim of cyberbullying. Ensure your school establishes a zero-tolerance policy to cyberbullying and has processes in place to protect young people from harm.

As a school leader, or anyone responsible for ensuring the well-being of students, make sure you are using the appropriate tools to allow you to track the usage of social media and report on potentially harmful conversations. Smoothwall provides leading web filtering and threat detection services to schools in order to protect young people from online abuse.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online. For adults or organizations looking for advice or tools to protect young people in the digital world, please contact us for more information.

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