The impact social media is having on young girls.


A study published by University of Essex and University College London, reveals that teenage girls increase their risk of showing symptoms of depression by 50% when they spend more than five hours a day on social media. In comparison, teenage boys increase their risks of showing symptoms by 35%.

Psychologist Dr. Alisa Duclos believes that this is because teenage girls on social media tend to compare their insides to the outsides of others.

“For women who are trying to get their sense of self, who are pressured to look a certain way, they are seeing images of young women looking not even real with filters,” she said.

Dr. Alisa Duclos

High social media use has been linked to symptoms of depression, including feelings of unhappiness, restlessness, and loneliness.

To understand the correlation between social media and symptoms of depression better, CNN looked at data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, which studied the effects of lack of sleep, cyber harassment, poor body image, and low self-esteem. All four experiences have one thing in common—they are tied to frequent social media use.

Despite these alarming findings, The Washington Post reports that too many schools don’t have enough health professionals to help students manage symptoms of depression. In U.S. public schools, it’s estimated that there’s only one school psychologist for every 1,300 students. Ideally, one psychologist should be available for 500 to 700 students. And even that number is too large.

When it comes to school nurses, a 2017 survey by the National Association of School Nurses showed that less than 40% of private and public schools in the country have full-time nurses, let alone those trained to deal with mental health issues. Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education calls it a huge issue:

“We do not have enough mental health professionals to meet the increasingly complex needs of the students that are walking through the door”.

Amanda Nickerson, director of Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention

 In Maryville University’s overview of their psychology degree, they note how there is a growing “demand for professionals who understand the connections between psychology and education”. As more research points to the increase in mental health issues in teenagers, this demand will have to be met sooner rather than later. 

Here on the Sue Scheff Blog we talked about new research where two-thirds of teens surveyed had engaged in at least one risky behavior online. More than half of the teens surveyed knew how to hide content from their parents and one in five teen girls said they have sent sexually explicit photos. For teenage girls, this is often due to the pressure to conform that comes from social media.

You can make simple changes at home when it comes to protecting your kids online, and making sure their social media activities do not lead them to suffer from depression.

Going back to the CNN article, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Duke Health, Dr. Gary Maslow recommends setting up a charging station in a common room so that phones aren’t charged in the bedroom. This can help prevent distractions and sleep interruptions. It will also mean that your teens are not spending all their time in their bedroom on their phone.

Dr. Maslow also suggests you get an actual alarm clock so your teens do not use their phones as alarms. Limit their nighttime usage, too, because a good night’s sleep can help improve their mood.

“It’s a balance, there are so many ways in which social media is important and has positive features, but there are also ways in which social media can replace social support and connection from people you are actually living with,” he said.

Dr. Maslow

As well as controlling your child’s screen time, it’s also important that you start creating a balance between real-life interactions and social media interactions while your kids are still young. Modern parents have the tendency to take a lot of pictures of their kids and post them online. This can lead your child to think it’s normal and necessary to look “social media-ready” all the time.

Develop your child’s self-esteem, too, by highlighting their strengths in public and addressing their weaknesses in private. As your teens grow, you need to make sure that you take the time to explain how social media works. Let them know that it’s a curated platform that can be easily manipulated. Openly communicating these things to your kids can help minimize their chances of developing symptoms of depression while they’re on social media.

It’s important to ask if your teen girls have ever felt bad after they have spent some time on social media. You can then share your own experiences, so they don’t feel intimidated to share theirs. It’s important that you also make sure you pay attention to their emotional development. Reassure them that no one feels great all the time and how things look on the outside isn’t really how things are in reality.

Article written by Eloise Martin

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