How does social media impact teenagers’ mental health and social skills?

Karen Lim, Speech Pathologist

Social media has become a significant part of teenagers’ lives, providing a platform for connection, sharing, and exploration. However, along with its benefits, social media also brings potential negative impacts on teenagers’ mental health and social skills. As speech pathologists and parents, understanding these impacts and implementing strategies to mitigate potential harms are crucial for supporting teenagers’ well-being.

Impact on Mental Health:

Studies have shown a correlation between excessive social media use and increased rates of social anxiety, depression, and loneliness among teenagers (Bonetti et al., 2010). While these platforms offer a sense of connection, spending prolonged periods online can reduce face-to-face interactions, limiting opportunities for meaningful social connections and contributing to feelings of isolation. The constant comparison to idealised images and lifestyles portrayed on social media can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Moreover, cyberbullying, which can occur through social media platforms, can have serious detrimental effects on teenagers’ mental health.

Impact on Social Skills:

Engaging in face-to-face communication involves interpreting verbal and visual cues, including facial expressions, eye contact, and tone of voice, to understand social contexts and respond appropriately. Proficiency in reading these non-verbal cues is crucial for personal, social, and academic success. Teenagers who grasp emotional cues tend to develop stronger social skills and better peer relationships (Durkin & Conti-Ramsden, 2010). However, digital communication lacks the richness of in-person interaction, hindering the development of vital social skills.

Role of Speech Pathology

Speech pathology plays a vital role in supporting teenagers who are struggling with the negative impacts of social media on their mental health and social skills. Speech pathologists are trained to assess and treat communication disorders, including difficulties related to social communication. They can help teenagers develop the skills needed to navigate social interactions effectively, both online and offline.

Speech pathology can help teenagers enhance their social communication skills by improving their abilities in:

  •  initiating and maintaining conversations
  •  interpreting social cues
  •  understanding nonverbal communication
  • understanding other’s perspectives
  •  developing social boundaries
  •  developing empathy
  •  resolving conflict

Speech pathology can also support pragmatic and communication skills for successful and safe use of social media (ASHA, 2017) by:

  • Discussing appropriate language and content for social media
  • Explaining suitable communication for texting, distinguishing between casual and formal exchanges.
  • Discussing the dangers of messaging strangers on social media.

Furthermore, speech pathologists also work collaboratively with professionals such as behavior support specialists, psychologists, and occupational therapists to support with building and maintaining positive relationships.

Strategies for parents:

Parents also play a vital role in mitigating the negative impact of social media on teenagers’ mental health and social skills. They can do this by:

Role Modeling: Demonstrating positive online behaviours and engaging in meaningful conversations with their teenagers about the content they encounter online and demonstrate positive ways of managing stress and emotions.

Open Communication: Establishing open communication with teenagers about their feelings and experiences online to understand any challenges they may be facing.

Setting Boundaries: Establishing clear guidelines around social media use, such as limiting screen time and monitoring online interactions to protect teenagers’ mental health.

Encouraging Offline Activities: Encouraging teenagers to participate in offline activities, such as sports or hobbies, to reduce the negative impact of social media on their mental health.

Conclusion

While social media offers many benefits to teenagers, it can also have negative impacts on their mental health and social skills. It is important for teenagers to access appropriate support to navigate these challenges. Speech pathologists and parents play crucial roles to help teenagers develop the skills they need to thrive in today’s digital world.