Keeping Teens Mentally Healthy on Social Media


Nowadays, the internet is an ever-constant presence in both parents' and children’s lives. Never before has technology allowed us to be so immersed in the lives of others around the world. Social media, online spaces where individuals can post, share, and respond to content (written, photo, video), has become a virtual meeting site where people can keep in touch with friends, stay abreast of current events, and build communities. What occurs on sites such as TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr can be just as important, if not more important, than what occurs in the non-virtual world.

Since social media took off around 20 years ago, psychologists, educators, technology experts, and medical professionals have explored the way social media affects the inner and outer lives of children and teenagers. Recently, the U.S. Surgeon General, in 2023, published an advisory around youth social media use, summarizing up-to-date information. We have discussed this advisory previously (link attached below). To briefly summarize, the findings are mixed. On the positive end, children and teenagers, in particular, have found social media to be crucial for keeping up to date with their peers at school and in the world around them. They have also found social media to be a powerful tool of self-expression, exploring interests and identities they might not be able to explore in real life. They can also use these resources to seek support from communities around the world when they feel isolated or lonely at home. However, there is also a cost. Some of the costs include:

• Distracting the teen from real-world responsibilities and events.
• Exposing the teen to harmful misinformation, conspiracy theories, or upsetting violent or sexual material.
• Exposing teens to people who may manipulate, exploit, bully, or prey on them.
• Fostering a need for teens to constantly compare themselves to others based on unrealistic pictures or posts from more popular/attractive/rich people.
• Exposing themselves to trends or fads that could harm them physically or help to normalize maladaptive behaviors, such as substance use or self-harm.

With almost 95% of teenagers today reporting using social media, it is crucial to understand the steps parents can take to ensure they maintain their well-being on social media. Below are a few tools and tips that may be helpful for parents who hope to aid in their adolescent’s mental health surrounding this issue.

Set Up Rules And Boundaries Around Social Media Use And Screen Time

Speaking to your children openly and honestly around the pros and cons of social media, and setting guidelines around when the family should and should not use social media can be incredibly helpful in setting up boundaries. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developing a Family Media plan, which can be found at the link below, where all members of the family can contribute to the plan and learn more about healthy and unhealthy behavior related to screens and the internet.

Discuss The Importance Of Confidentiality And Sharing Information On Social Media

Perhaps most importantly, you should discuss with your teen issues around giving out personal, financial, and in some cases, sexual details to others online. It is important to describe issues that may be opened up relating to online scamming, sexual exploitation, and identity theft that can emerge if information is carelessly shared. You may also wish to discuss how messages and photos, once shared online, can be there permanently and can no longer be controlled by the teen. As such, they should always think carefully before sharing or posting anything.

Have Screen-Free Spaces and Times

Have set times and locations (mealtimes, bedtime, etc…) where it is expected that the whole family be off of social media and screens in general. In these times, try other activities, such as game night, listening to music together, making meals together, or other ways to connect as a family.

Monitor Your Child’s Social Media Use

It is important for parents to check in with what their child is posting or doing on social media. Most social media sites allow for ‘following’ or ‘friending’ a person’s account, which will allow you to see what your child is doing. If you see your child beginning to share concerning material (violence, sexual content, bullying, misinformation), it is important to speak with them about what you are observing and address it with them. Parents should also be aware that some social media sites allow users to ‘hide’ content from specific followers or friends, and that people can receive private messages that are not viewable by others. As such, you should know that just following your child is not a guarantee you know all that is going on online.

Have Frequent Conversations with Your Teen Around Social Media

Although following your child online can be a source of information, you should also check in with them frequently about the current goings-on of social media from their perspective. Asking about current trends or fads, what they and their friends are doing online, and encouraging your child to come to you if they have any concerns or questions. Let them know you are a safe person to talk to about any issues they face when online. It may also be helpful for parents to do your own research on the social media your teen is on and how those sites work, so you can more effectively listen and give feedback.

Model Appropriate Social Media Use for Your Child

If you use social media, it can be helpful to lead by example. Showing your teen how you appropriately use your time on social media, keeping boundaries, and discussing how you handle upsetting or stressful moments on social media can be helpful for your teen in understanding how they can also deal with these issues.

Encourage Your Teen to Have In-Person Social Meetups

Ensuring your teen feels a sense of connection and community in the real world can help teens feel less of a need to rely solely on online communities.

Keep an Eye Out for Problematic or Concerning Behavior Related to Social Media

In some cases, it may be helpful to seek help for your child if you are seeing concerning behavior related to their social media use. For example, if they report 1) feeling out of control or unable to stop using social media even when they want to, 2) using so much they can’t sleep, perform daily responsibilities, or their in-person relationships suffer, or 3) lying in order to use social media, consulting with a mental health care provider may be warranted.


  • Our previous blog post about the Surgeon General’s Advisory: Link
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics on How to Develop a Family Media Plan: Link


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