Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Dr Marny Lishman about her thoughts regarding teens and social media. Dr Lishman is a Health & Community Psychologist who specialises in helping people reduce their stress and anxiety.
In what ways do you see social media and internet use impacting on teenagers’ self-esteems and mental well-being?
I think it all really depends on how teenagers’ are using social media and the internet. Technology that allows us to connect to the world in such a speedy and efficient way can add value to our lives if used well and and in an appropriate way. Like anything, if we don’t use it correctly, inappropriately or even use it too much – it can be harmful.
As a psychologist, what concerns you the most about teenagers constantly using social media?
Research has shown that on average, teenagers are on social media alone for roughly 3 hours a day, which doesn’t even account for other internet use, video game playing or just other computer usage which is so common in teens. My first concern is one of excess sedentary activities, and the physical health conditions that result from excessive physical inactivity. Then we have the sleep deprivation and disruption that comes along with excessive social media use in the evenings. Teens require a lot of sleep, and it is evident that social media usage is interrupting this. Teens are sleeping later, and still haven’t to get up early for school. Notifications from social media sites are also waking them up through the night. Our teens are in increased sleep debt!
Psychological wellbeing can also be affected – particularly if they are comparing themselves with peers. Many teens report feeling that their friends are having more fun them them; that their friends lives are better, worrying that their friends are leaving them out of social gatherings and feeling upset if they have missed out. This could lower self esteem.
What also concerns me is what teenagers are NOT doing when they are spending so much time on social media. I.e. Physical activity, socialising, being out in nature, sleeping, being in the sunlight, having a purpose, learning about real life, school work! – everything that makes up a balanced life.
What positives do you see arise from teenager’s use of social media?
Internet usage and social media is integral to teenagers in the modern world. Teens, when using it properly, are getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. Social media keeps teens connected. This is great for the more introverted kids or even socially isolated kids, as it allows them more social interaction than they would have otherwise
What strategies do you suggest teenagers use to maintain a healthy virtual life/real life balance?
I suggest that they make sure they don’t stop doing all the other things that they once enjoyed (I.e. Friendships, going out, sport etc). They need to be mindful that social media can become quite addictive. Perhaps they could consciously put boundaries on their own usage, and ensure that they have regular breaks
What advice would you give to parents who are trying to manage their child’s internet use with their wellbeing?
I am sure in most cases, that parents have bought the devices that their kids are using which makes them in charge of it! So placing strict rules / contracts on how the devices are to be used is a good start. Teens need boundaries, not free run of these devices. A contract might include parents being connected on the social sites as well, as well as stipulations on how long their child is allowed on the sites and what times of the day. Computer usage might be restricted to only be used in family areas when parents allowed. Parents need to be one step ahead if they can and make sure they check the privacy accounts/restrictions etc on their child’s accounts. Another big talk might also be about what not to post, the teens address or location, inappropriate pictures, as well as bullying online.
Parents forget that they are the boss in this situation – yes, teenagers are going to resist at first, but be firm, they will thank you for it in the long run!
You can find out more about Dr. Lishman via her website.