During the school year, Sabine Polak received a call from the guidance counselor regarding her 14-year-old daughter. In addition to being depressed, her daughter had contemplated suicide. Sabine brought her daughter to a crisis center to address her pressing mental health concerns and soon found out that her daughter's intense anxiety was caused by social media. The main reason for her stress was waiting for her friends to respond on Snapchat.
As if parents, schools, and communities weren’t already worried enough about teenagers, social media raises even more concerns. Like Sabine, many caregivers aren’t aware of the harm online platforms can have on a juvenile.
Helpful Versus Harmful
Research from the past few years has shown that social media platforms can be both helpful and harmful. But does one play a larger role?
There are several apps that have different features and entertainment; the most popular among adolescents are Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter. These platforms allow youth to create personalized profiles and manage a social network of their friends, family, influencers, celebrities, and many more accounts that they desire. Moreover, teens can use social media to express themselves and interact with new cultural trends. These outlets can reveal current events and information, new products, healthy behaviors, humorous memes and videos, and a variety of different subjects. However, numerous consequences can also come from high social media use, including cyberbullying, unrealistic views on reality, self-insecurities, mental health disorders, stalking, obsession with likes and follows, and exposure to illegal activities. Even with parental controls to avoid these negative outcomes, juveniles have found ways around them. Some teens make “finsta” accounts, a fake Instagram profile, where they post photos for close friend groups and the majority of the time, adults are not aware of them. These actions are leaving parents, schools, and communities concerned that social media is negatively impacting juveniles, and on top of that, many guardians are uninformed of what their children are doing or seeing on these apps.
Social media has also been found to be addictive to newer generations. Sabine explained that her daughter had this struggle, "It became really addictive [for her] -- the sense that you always have to be on, and always have to be responding to someone in order to be seen or to exist." Sabine’s daughter is not the only one who has these thoughts and feelings; the American Society of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that more than 90% of teenagers ages 13-17 use social media and are online nearly nine hours a day. A pediatric neurologist, Dr. Ben Renfroe, said young adults between the ages of 14 and 22 are most vulnerable to social media addiction. “We see changes in the brain associated with excess use of social media, the same as we see associated with the beginning of addictive behavior with nicotine or other substances,” says Dr. Renfroe.
Evolving with Social Media
We have seen companies and industries shift their marketing and communications efforts to social media to cater to their audiences and as we continue to see online platforms evolve, it is important to understand the role social media plays in juveniles’ lives. Social media giants like Facebook and Instagram have been shown to increase harmful thoughts. Data scientists at Facebook found that amid users who reported suicidal feelings, 13% in the UK and 6% in the U.S. traced them back to Instagram. On top of that, a study by Megan Moreno et al. found that more than half of children 11 to 18 years old suggest risky behaviors related to sex, violence, alcohol, or drugs on their social media profiles. With more and more data becoming publicly available, leaders and caregivers can understand the full grasp of social media and take the appropriate actions to address the behaviors teens are experiencing on the web or displaying.
Addressing Juvenile Behavior with the Whole Family
While social media is a part of many adolescents’ lives, some youths’ exposure to it can lead to at-risk behaviors with their peers, or in their homes and communities. These behaviors can include underage drug and alcohol consumption, messaging with older adults, giving out personal information, violence, sex, and more. Therapists and counselors have experience working with youth and parents who experience social media struggles. Specifically, Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based program for youth with severe antisocial behaviors, mental health disorders, and behavioral health issues.
For example, there have been MST cases where clients are involved in dangerous situations due to their social media activities. Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health experienced one case where a youth client fled from their home. Concerning conversations and social media posts led the MST team and family to believe the teen was at imminent risk of trafficking. The MST clinician activated law enforcement in the area the adolescent said they were in and engaged personnel from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). In addition to engaging the appropriate agencies, they investigated and ran down every piece of information that the youth provided. The therapist reported all of their findings back to the appropriate agencies, and the teen was located and brought back to their community.
Working with juveniles means knowing about social media and trends that youth might be following. MST therapists are committed to making sure young people and caregivers have the resources they need to transform their lives. When youth and parents are involved in treatment, they can establish healthy boundaries and relationships, including on social media.
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration or severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats youth and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of services within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs which could include but is not limited to the following types of interventions: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/ Vocational Support.
If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Multisystemic Therapy, contact us here.