In August of 2011, the California Adolescent Health Collaborative published a paper outlining the risks that social media poses on teens as well as the benefits of social media. There has already been a number of publications on the ways that the use of technology can affect a teen’s health. However, learning about the benefits of online communication and social media might help parents understand their children.
There are certainly a large number of teens who use technology as a regular part of their lives. Here are statistics provided by the California Adolescent Health Collaborative:
- 75% of teens own a cell phone
- 88% of cell phone owning teens text
- 72% of teens use text messaging as a means of communication.
- 73% of teens have used a social networking site
- 63% of teens watch online videos
- 61% of teens play games online, including those that require more than one player
- 52% of teens have commented on a blog
These statistics indicate that teens today are using technology in their daily life. And if this is the case, how is technology affecting their mental, emotional, and physical health? An article in the New York Times points out that texting, which can be incredibly distracting, can take a toll on a teen’s mental health. From a study done by Pew Research Center, teens are texting over 50 texts per day, and one third of teens are texting 100 or more per day. One in seven teens send more than 200 texts. It’s easier, they say, to text than to make a phone call.
The pattern of over-texting, however, has been a recent concern for doctors and psychologists. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and director at Initiative on Technology believes that the excessive texting may cause a shift in the way teens develop. There’s a constant disruption in a teen’s attention from the task at hand, whatever that might be, to a text, back to his or her current activity, and back to the phone again. There’s very little ability to stay focused. Although texting isn’t causing mental illness, it might contribute to the severity of a teen’s symptoms.
At the same time, there are benefits to the use of technology and social media for teens. For instance, teens have used online networks to extend friends they already have. And online networking sites provide a way for teens to experience connection and opportunities to learn from one another. Social media can also provide a supportive environment to explore important life areas for teens, including social status, identity, and belonging. Teens can also explore romance and friendships online. They can discuss tastes in music, knowledge of movies, and other important aspects of being an adolescent. Interestingly, one statistic found that teens from lower income families are more likely to use online social media than wealthier families.
Another benefit for teens is that they tend to use online resources as a key source of information and advice for their development. In fact, 57% of those teens who use social network sites reported that they look to their online social network for advice. And more and more teens are turning to online searches for gaining answers on their health concerns.
But it’s important for teens and their parents to know that the same risks that exist off the Internet also exist online. One of the strongest predictors of depression is rejection, lack of close friends, and negative self views. Another study found that teens who are heavy social media users are actually less content, tend to get into trouble more often, are sad or unhappy, and often are bored with their life. Although there are some benefits to exploring the world online, there are some risks for those who might already be vulnerable to peer rejection. Furthermore, there are many stories of teens who have attempted suicide as a result of experiencing forms of cyber bullying.
Certainly, spending time online connecting with others can be fulfilling and a rewarding experience. However, there are also risks, such as those mentioned above, to keep in mind.
Carroll, J.A. & Kirkpatrick, R.L. (2011). Impact of social media on adolescent behavioral health. Oakland, CA: California Adolescent Health Collaborative.