The Negative Effects of Social Media for Teens

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The Negative Effects of Social Media for Teens

August 12, 2021
Green Zone

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Gray Zone

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Parents should participate in these apps with students to keep them safe.
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Red Zone

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Dangerous Social media challenges

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Table of Contents

The next generation will enter adulthood wired by life online. There are plenty of debates about the effects of social media on tweens and teens.

While scientists work to figure out exactly what all of today’s technology is doing to our bodies and brains, the Smart Social team believes social media has turned into an unhealthy obsession for society.

We want to help parents and educators understand how big the online addiction problem is, so we can all work together to help kids around the world stay safe and healthy from the negative effects of social media.

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Study reveals that social media leads to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness

Child Mind Institute How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers

"Too few of us are paying attention to how our teenagers’ use of technology—much more intense and intimate than a 3-year-old playing with dad’s iPhone—is affecting them. In fact, experts worry that the social media and text messages that have become so integral to teenage life are promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem."

Source: Child Mind Institute

Current research suggests that the negative effects of social media feel bigger than the positive effects

PSYCOM headline: Social media and teens: How does social media affect teenagers' Mental Health Teenagers can use social media to find community, but their mental health is often negatively affected by this culture of comparison

"Read enough of the current research and you’ll find that the negatives tend to feel bigger than the positives. While teens can use social media to connect and create friendships with others, they also confront cyberbullying, trolls, toxic comparisons, sleep deprivation, and less frequent face-to-face interactions, to name a few.

Too much time spent scrolling through social media can result in symptoms of anxiety and/or depression."

Source: Psycom

Best & worst social media apps for teens

The team scours the internet to find the good and bad apps that students want to be on. Our Parent App Guides are based on real questions we get from parents and educators all over the world.

We categorize apps as Green, Gray, and Red based on how users connect with others (especially strangers) and the common content found in the feeds or discussions.

Green Zone Apps can positively impact your social media footprint (with parental guidance) and can help a student Shine Online.

Gray Zone Apps are where your students WANT to hang out, but if they use these apps negatively, it could hurt their digital footprint. Parents should be engaged when students use Gray Zone Apps.

Red Zone Apps usually have inappropriate and unmoderated content. Students are more prone to cyberbullying and chatting with strangers (sometimes even predators) on apps in the red zone. Often, these apps are anonymous and will encourage students to behave inappropriately. When students use an app in anonymous mode (without it being tied to their real identity) they tend to behave differently.

Read more about each app on the Popular Teen App List.

Four Cs to positive and negative effects of social media

The GOOD parts of social media

Connecting - when we use social media for connecting, we are growing our network of real people and helping to be more social. We are using social media as a tool to be more interactive with people

Communication - When we communicate (by direct messaging or emailing people) to invite them to events or ask them questions, we are interacting in a positive way and using our devices with a purpose.

The BAD parts of social media

Comparing - When we compare ourselves to others (the way they look, where they go on vacation or who they are dating) we are comparing ourselves to them. This causes anxiety and depression.

Consuming - When we have a spare moment in line at the bank, or we are bored in the passenger seat in the car, we might open our phone to check our Instagram feed. This is us filling the spaces by consuming other people's social media with the endless feed on Instagram/Snap/Facebook, etc. Consumption robs us of great ideas, interactions and makes us less focused.

Negative effects of social media

Anxiety & depression:
Research suggests that young people who spend more than 2 hours per day on social media are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression). Read more about how to talk about anxiety with your students.

Lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep:
Numerous studies have shown that increased social media use has a significant association with poor sleep quality in young people. Using phones, laptops, and tablets at night before bed is also linked with poor quality sleep. Read more about social media jet lag.

Negative body image:
Body image is an issue for many young people, both male and female. Studies have shown that when women in their teens and early twenties view Facebook for only a short period of time, body image concerns are higher compared to non-users. Read tips of how to talk with students about body image.

Bullying during childhood is a major risk factor for a number of issues including mental health, education and social relationships, with long-lasting effects often carried right through to adulthood. Read about the signs that your student might be a victim of cyberbullying.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO):
FOMO has been robustly linked to higher levels of social media engagement, meaning that the more an individual uses social media, the more likely they are to experience FOMO. Read more about the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

Read more about the benefits and risks of social media from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Positive effects of social media

Create your own online reputation to Shine Online: 
Using social media with a positive intention can help students create what others see about them in Google results for their name. Decision makers for future colleges, scholarships, coaches, internship, and jobs can see the positive narrative the student creates.

Access to expert health info:
Social networking offers young people who may be suffering from mental health issues an opportunity to read, watch or listen to, and understand, the health experiences of others – relating them back to their own reality.

Emotional support:
Conversations on social media can emerge and provide young people with essential interaction to overcome difficult health issues, particularly when they may not have access to that support face-to-face.

Community building:
The community building aspect of social media is also distinctly positive for many young people. By joining ‘groups’ or ‘pages’ young people can surround themselves with like-minded people and share their thoughts or concerns.

Self-expression and self-identity are important aspects of development throughout the teen years. Social media can act as an effective platform for positive self-expression, letting teens put forward their best self.

Building upon relationships:
There is evidence to suggest that strong adolescent friendships can be enhanced by social media interaction, allowing young people to create stronger bonds with people they already know.

The negative effects of social media in the news

Health Day headline: As Social Media Time Rises, So Does Teen Girls' Suicide Risk
"'We found that girls who started using social media at two to three hours a day or more at age 13, and then increased [that use] over time, had the highest levels of suicide risk in emerging adulthood,' said study author Sarah Coyne."

- Health Day

"Social media addiction is a mental health problem... Excessive usage [is] linked to relationship problems, worse academic achievement and less participation in offline communities."


“The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned about the potential for negative effects of social media in young kids and teens, including cyber-bullying.”


“Survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.”

–Child Mind Institute

“Too much passive use of social media – just browsing posts – can be unhealthy and has been linked to feelings of envy, inadequacy and less satisfaction with life. Studies have even suggested that it can lead to ADHD symptoms, depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation. ”


What age should a student have their own smart device?

All families are different in their communication needs and every student is different in how they are able to manage making decisions and recognizing warning signs of dangers from smart devices. Here are our recommendations and resources for your family to consider when making this decision: 

Ages 0-10: No phone or device

Age 10: Create a family social media and smart device contract

Ages 10-13: Consider a phone that allows phone calls or SMS/text only (ex: flip phone, Gabb phone, Pinwheel phone, etc.)

Age 14: Consider an iPhone or Android without social media apps installed

Age 15 and older: Consider a smartphone with social media apps installed

What age should a student access social media?

Ages 0-13 - Private social accounts

Age 12 - Have a family discussion regarding what your student’s online brand should look like

Age 13 - Create a family social media and smart device contract

Age 13-15 - Build a personal portfolio to start saving positive photos of student's volunteer work and accomplishments. Then, get a private Instagram account to eventually make public

Age 14-15 - Publish the portfolio as a website and set the Instagram account to public so they are discoverable and can improve your student’s Google results

Age 17 - Colleges should be able to find a positive online footprint for your student

What can parents and educators do to protect students from the negative effects of social media?

  • Start a dialog about social media with your kids at a young age and talk regularly
  • Ensure your students are equipped with the relevant skills to be able to navigate social media
  • Lead by example and model positive behaviors for your child
  • Teach students that social media can and should be utilized as a tool for good
  • Ensure your children are equipped with the relevant skills to be able to navigate social media
  • Consider joining Smart Social's VIP (Very Informed Program) to get videos families or classes can watch together. These videos will start a healthy dialog that will help them understand how to stay safe and be smart online
  • Remind students that they can always come to you or a trusted adult if they ever need help
  • Parents: consider waiting until your child has shown that they can handle the responsibility of using social media before letting them set up their first profile
  • When you’re ready for your child to be online, read the Parent App Guide page to learn more about the Green, Gray, and Red apps your students may want to be on and what you can do to help them stay safe on specific apps


Society’s obsession with social media isn’t going away any time soon. It’s the job of parents and educators to teach students about these negative effects before they become addicted. If you need help talking with your students about the dangers of social media and how they can use it in a positive way, we have some talking points for parents and educators here.

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