Instagram and social media can be a whole other world completely occupying the mind of a susceptible young adult. In this piece of writing, speaking from my personal experience and perspective, I will outline a few of the ways that social media impacts and influences teenagers. I'm hoping that by sharing my perspective, parents and teachers might gain a bit of insider info and learn a bit more about the implications of the virtual worlds we live in. This could help you connect and understand your teenager on a deeper level, which can strengthen your relationship with your teenager. I will also talk about how your teenager can create a healthy relationship with social media. And how they can maintain a healthy relationship with themselves when online. I will talk about my personal experience as an example for this.
Throughout my childhood I was encouraged to connect with nature and to my creative endeavours. I believe having had the first 7-8 years completely offline helped dramatically to not be so captivated into the online social spaces. This distance I had in my early years helped my mum continue to reinforce positive framing around the attractiveness of being offline. As I was still very vulnerable to the addiction until I developed my own comprehensive understanding in my mid to late teens. During the early years children have very little impulse control or self regulation, and as social media and video games are highly addictive. It is necessary for parents to step in and limit screen time, but how parents go about that is crucial.
Setting limits for teens
Growing up, I really noticed the stark contrast between the conversations I had around screen-use/social media and the conversations that my friends had with their parents. As a result, I can really understand how parents can feel powerless, and how that leads to frustration, which as I saw growing up, often leads to arguments and a breakdown of the parent-child relationship.
Through observation and personal experience, it seems to me that the most effective approach to helping teenagers to regulate their screen time is through reasonable negotiations, rather than a process that excludes your teenager from all decision making. I believe that parents of teens need to have a dramatically different approach to managing limits. Taking the approach of collaborating and problem solving with them is likely to have a better result, as teens are developing their autonomy and need to feel good about decisions and changes. It helps to be aware of all the needs it meets for them and also all the effects it has on their development, the positive and the negative. The more a parent can gain a true understanding of what the experience of being online is like for the teenager, the more likely the parent can engage their teen in serious meaningful conversations. You want your teenager to feel supported instead of criticized. You want them to feel more heard rather than lectured, more cared for instead of controlled. Your emotional support and warm listening can help them feel good about managing their own screen time for themselves.
My experiences with my mum.
I remember a couple of times when I had calm, reasonable conversations about my screen time with my mum. I remember they would usually start with my mum checking in with me about my balance of needs and wants. She would then remind me of some of the negative impacts that screens have in general. Because she wasn’t imposing limits and because she could empathise with how stressful it was for me to try and balance everything in my life, it allowed me to really think it all through for myself. This enabled me to feel empowered in making healthy decisions and setting goals to reduce my time on screens. Growing up I was a lot less inclined to follow instructions during my teens because it didn’t feel empowering for me, and took away my sense of independence. But mum’s approach of holding space for me, always listening and caring about what I am going through. And giving me the support in my own process of thinking things through, I always felt very encouraged to stay on track with caring for myself and my needs in a healthy way. At this age, I can now really appreciate that mum’s approach really helped me to be more self-aware and make my own decisions based on self-care and knowledge (rather than peer pressure, feeling like a victim, being reactive to pressure or depending on people).
Social media stimulation.
Social interaction and connection feels like a basic survival need to teenagers, which is one of the core needs that attracts them to social media. On instagram or another platform, if they are negatively responded to or humiliated online that will cause judgements from peers, this can feel like the end of the world to them. Teenagers are in the stage of development where they are entirely consumed by building their identity, so the more energy they put into their online identity the greater the risk for them depending on these platforms and hence the greater the risk of online humiliation or shaming. On the flip side, if they are well received and liked online, it makes them feel confident in themselves giving an overall feeling of being on top of the world. Many of the experts warn that social media addiction can be easily as addictive as gambling, drinking or drugs as it is playing with extreme ups and downs of emotions. In fact, social media platforms and phones in general share many similarities with gambling machines. The bright colours and sounds have a stimulating effect on our brains which makes these platforms feel hyper stimulating and engaging.
Confidence from social media can be great for their identity building and having a sense of community. However, building themselves online can cause a lot of unhealthy pressure and expectations which can suffocate their mental health. Frequently using social media has mental, social, spiritual and physical impacts that the majority of young people and parents need a lot more awareness of.
Instagram can be used as a dissociation tool to disconnect them from their hurts or pains. This pattern can program a habit for them to distract and dissociate from painful feelings rather than learning and healing from them. It brings them into an online reality where they are drawn into comparison with others and feel the pressure of unrealistic expectations. This comparison culture makes it difficult for a teen to be themselves and to feel content in their own mind and body. These expectations, pressures and comparisons bring them into lower self esteem and take away from their special individual gifts and authentic expression. Social media tends to over-stimulate the rewarding signals in their brain, which can lower their attention span and make it harder for them to manage delayed gratification.
For the vast majority of teenagers using Instagram, it can cause a heightened state of self consciousness which can lead to anxiety around their image and persona. This can take from their natural abilities to openly and empathetically connect with people offline from an intuitive instinct.
Teenagers frequently using instagram will most likely gain their judgements on others in their age group from online profiles, which disables their natural social instincts. The online social world can make them less likely to seek their development of social skills offline as they have the option to meet their social needs online. When they spend the majority of their socialising online it can make them feel less settled into offline, face to face communication (this especially applies to teenagers who are introverted or have anxiety).
If this pressure / addiction online increases, it can take from their relationship with their true self, leading them on a more superficial path rather than a meaningful path in life. Meaningful paths will lead them to discover the true meaning of who they are and what they want to achieve. A teenager stepping into more independence and responsibility means they can have an increased awareness of their surroundings and influences, as well as big changes in their relationship with their attachment figures and their peers. This step into independence often will naturally lead them into becoming aware of traumas and negative emotions, which is a very important stage of their life. These are all very crucial for the process of healing and growing out of their fears and more into a purposeful path. Social media can take from this process, in that it tends to take us out of the present moment and the radiation from the devices lower our attention span on and off the phones. All this can lead to increased irritation and frustration and generally feeling less connected and content. Off social media many get a decrease of energy following the dopamine spikes while on the screens. This can contribute to a general decreased energy and motivation which hinders our connection to self.
Physically engaging in using a device can hunch their posture and tense their upper body (chest, neck and back). The EMF (electrical, magnetic, frequency) that emits radiation from technology connected to wifi and bluetooth, has many potentially serious health risks. “Brain imaging research indicates a loss of integrity to the brain’s white matter in people with Internet Addiction Disorder” - Nicholas Kardaras. Nicholas is a screen addiction expert if you are curious to know more facts around this topic.
Personally I notice when I use my laptop or phone for too long that my system becomes irritated, I can feel spiky energy in my hands, makes my head fuzzy, and disturbs my sleep by ringing in my ears and heat in my body. The antidote to these physical effects for me is getting my bare feet on the grass, this naturally drains out the EMF and re-balances my energy into a torus upwards energy flow (EMF creates downwards energy flow). Being cautious of using technology on a resting place rather than holding in hand or placed on the body. Generally reducing screen time as much as possible. I know this can be very hard to find ways around, making a plan to get into nature during the day can be a great solution for balance.
To help gather more in depth understanding into the ongoing effects this has on the developing individual, I will draw some comparison between my friends who don't have any social media at all and my friends who use it frequently.
Health risks. From my observation and experience, teenagers who are highly addicted to social media tend to be more concerned around their image, as physical appearance is highly glorified on instagram. Stress and concerns around their appearance can lead to insecurities and potentially eating disorders. Online awareness of their image makes them more inclined to focus on their health for their appearance rather than for healthy reasons which would be more attainable and sustainable for their mental and physical health. The dopamine hit from being online can also stimulate the ghrelin hormone which tells the body it's hungry. I recently did an online course on this subject where I learned that over activation of ghrelin can increase insulin resistance, which leads to health conditions. You may notice that using social media for long periods of time can make people hungry or mindlessly overeat. As the dopinime can pre occupy the brain when it's stimulated, making self regulation difficult to manage.
How using social media can lead to a progressed disconnection from their true self.
During the process of stepping into the embodiment of their true self means when they are on social media they have to filter out and discern so much external information and influences. Before discovering what is true, meaningful and authentic to them as individuals. Generally teenagers don't yet have the skills and experience to know how to discern something that does feel good, fit for who they want to be and believe in. This can indicate that spending a lot of time online during their years of growing up can lead them away from their own authenticity. Making them more inclined to make decisions based on the group / majority rather than thinking for themselves. The danger of not thinking for themselves means it could be harder to put up boundaries and they could be more easily manipulated. Online world can be very intimidating, intimidation can make them feel overwhelmed, insignificant and passive. These feelings can create a tendency to overly glorify people based on their online image and the number of followers, rather than that person’s true qualities and contributions. This tendency to glorify idols can further disconnect them from their self worth if they are comparing with what is intimidating them. Lack of self worth will take away from their awareness of their authentic wants, needs and specialities. Reassuring your teenager of their worth and qualities regularly will help them to stay true to themselves. Also encouraging them to prioritise their relationship with themselves in all ways that enhances self love and self worth. Journaling can be particularly good for this.
Less social media supports critical thinking, engagement and more naturally matured individuals. Not having an online image (or greatly reduced online image) enables the teenager to have more clarity of their personal reality as it is, likely allowing them to be more in the present moment. Staying present enhances creativity, inspiration and engagement, in a state of presence that I like to think of as a flow state. Not being occupied by the online realms enables them to be more receptive to what's going on for them internally, increasing emotional, mental, physical and spiritual attunement. Internal awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations naturally makes us less reactive and more receptive to what's going on around us. Spending the vast majority of our time offline creates openness and space in our mind. The more time we spend away from the online world, the more we’re attracted to activities in the real world. A teenager not being aware of others online presence means they can engage with people with an increased level of interest and care for that interaction, as being social is a basic need for teenagers. My observation has been that being overly focused on our own and other’s online images leads to increased insecurity around socialising in the real world. Another trait I have noticed with people who don't have social media is that they are less concerned with sticking to a certain demographic of people. They don't tend to limit themselves to a particular age or gender group, which can increase their social life to who suits them and their interests. (this is my observation of people in my personal life, so not a fact).
Try not to feel overwhelmed. I understand hearing about all these negative effects from something that is so centralised in today's world can be very overwhelming and even alarming if you weren't already cautious about the associated risks. If you are linking some of these effects to your teenagers' behaviour, patterns or insecurities it might also be shocking to think about the impacts of social media habits / addiction. Understanding these connections and impacts and increase your empathy and connection to your teen. However, the positive is that understanding is the first key step needed to change habits (or helping your teen change their habits). First of all acknowledgement alone will naturally begin the unravelling process. Reducing the hours on screens makes a big difference. So many teens spend many hours a day on social media with little awareness of any of the negative effects, which means they’re less likely to know they need to get back to a more balanced state. And because spending hours non stop online disconnects them from their true self, it can be a vicious cycle. But with you helping them gain this awareness you can begin to help your teenager to heal these patterns and find solutions and alternatives. Most of the needs and wishes that are met online can be gained through their real world, but the process of change is often slow and gradual.
As a teenager myself I believe the most important part of this social media awareness is that the relationship with it has to come from the teenagers themselves. If you the parents are trying to get them off screens the way to go around it is to help them through the process of understanding the effects it has on them personally while facilitating and supporting more rich positive experiences in the family and in their community. You can continue to guide them to follow their passions and that which gives them a sense of purpose. They need to be the one who is excited to put their energy into something achievable or creative that will help them get to a more exciting and fulfilling place for their own direction and purpose. The urge to get offline coming from them will be dramatically more healthy and sustainable than a limit or strict advice imposed by a parent or guardian. As a teenager is branching into independence you need to respect and encourage the will that is in them to grow and expand.
My personal experience now as a 19 year old.
Reading this you have probably wondered about my personal relationship with social media as a 19 year old and the writer. I do have social media, I have created a system online that works for me as I only follow people I personally have felt connected to in person or accounts that I find inspire me to carry on bringing my goals and creations into fruition. Having clear aspirations and a heightened sense of awareness makes it attainable for me to discern what I don't want in my consciousness online. I notice when it's bringing down my mood or I have over used it so I would delete that app until I have done what it was preventing me from achieving. If I notice I have a comparison or judgemental driven commentary in my head about someone I see online, I thank them for showing me what I can achieve or I thank them for being vulnerable in expressing themselves online to get the acknowledgement they need. I do see social media as a positive place for expression, creativity, business and connection when used with loving awareness. Although this isn’t easy to maintain, being true, real, vulnerable but also boundaries in the online space with awareness for me is an ongoing challenge that’s part of my personal and spiritual development.