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Media and mental health: adolescence redefined

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Attempts by parents to protect young people from the content they come across on social media will not always work because such material can still be shared and distributed by their peers

In the past few years, we as a people have been introduced to a variety of new ways to express ourselves publicly, with a significant factor in this behaviour being the rise in use of social-media platforms. While digital media such as television and radio have been around for decades, the use of social media started in the early 2000s and has been a game changer ever since. However, social media has both advantages and disadvantages, especially for our young people. Given the notion that adolescence and young adulthood are the primary stages in life in which a person tries to search for and create their own self-identity, the influences of social media have become quite prevalent among this age group.

The science behind social media’s impact on young people can be associated with the social comparison theory. This theory was first proposed in 1954 by social psychologist Leon Festinger and suggests that there is an innate drive within all individuals for accurate self-evaluation of our opinions and abilities, and the need to compare ourselves to others around us to reduce uncertainty in these areas and learn how to define the self. With the rise of social media, young adults have the opportunity to observe and interact with many people outside of their usual community, allowing them to broaden their perspective on who to compare themselves to and how. The passive use of social media has immense power to interfere with an individual’s true abilities for self-comparison because they are not only observing peers that are just like them in their own communities, but they also begin to follow and interact with other people from a variety of different backgrounds, which can in turn increase feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of missing out and low self-esteem.

There are multiple studies, including participants of the young adult age group, that indicate that frequent use of social media may be associated with declines in subjective wellbeing, life satisfaction and real-life community (Lin et al, 2016). Additionally, Primack et al suggest that cultural messages transmitted through media may affect other behaviours related to mental health such as eating disorders and aggressive behaviour, and media exposure may similarly contribute to development of mental health concerns through reinforcement of negative beliefs associated with depressive symptoms (2009).

For example, many social-media sites frequently have messages and content that are consistently filled with the idealised versions of characters, people, living situations and even occupations, constant consumption and comparison of oneself to the “perfect” people and unattainable situations that they see may ultimately result in a variety of mental health disorders. Furthermore, studies have suggested that excessive use of certain social media networking sites have been associated with social anxiety and a decline in interpersonal relationships (Primack et al., 2009). Excessive use of social media increases the distance between the individual and other real-life people and experiences that they engage in every day because they are constantly looking at a screen as opposed to fully living life.

It is my belief that attempts by parents and guardians to protect young people from the content they come across on social media will not always work because such material can still be shared and distributed to them by their peers. However, there are strategies to reduce the influence that social media could have on a young person’s mental wellbeing.

Model healthy habits

Allowing young people to observe the way that others treat themselves positively is a great way to intervene on the negative effects of social media. Take some time to practise modelling body positivity, self-love, healthy relationships with food, and healthy relationships with social media. Doing this will give young people the opportunity to grow in their body and appreciate their uniqueness while accepting themselves for who they are.

Feelings about their feed

Identifying one’s feelings about certain imagery and messages is important in understanding how their feed may affect their mental health and wellbeing. Encourage your young people to consider how scrolling on their feed for a few minutes makes them feel. If they are able to determine who or what on their feed makes them feel uncomfortable, they can take the proper steps to remove it.

Familiarise yourself with their platforms

Social-media platforms are making vast changes every day to their policies, privacy settings, content and community guidelines, so staying updated on how they operate and what they promote is important. Explore all of these platforms. Check out the search bar and see what is easily accessible to young people and how such content could be minimised or eliminated for them altogether. Some platforms offer parental controls and sensitive content settings that could greatly reduce the private consumption of certain content.

Chervonne Hodsoll, Bermudian-born and raised, is an aspiring mental health professional with a bachelor’s degree in psychology

• Chervonne Hodsoll, Bermudian-born and raised, is an aspiring mental health professional with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. When she is not in school, she can be found floating around the island on one of Sail Bermuda’s sailing vessels. Her primary career goal is to attain a master’s degree in counselling and life coaching certification to focus on her true purpose, assisting the adolescents and young adults of Bermuda through difficult mental health challenges and transitions.


Lin, L.y., Sidani, J.E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J.B., Hoffman, B.L., Giles,

L.M. and Primack, B.A. (2016). Associaton Between Social Media Use and Depression Among Us Young Adults. Depression and Anxiety, 33(4), 323-331. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22466

Primack BA, Swanier B, Georgiopoulos AM, Land SR, Fine MJ. Association Between Media

Use in Adolescence and Depression in Young Adulthood: A Longitudinal Study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66(2):181–188. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2008.532

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Published May 29, 2023 at 7:58 am (Updated May 27, 2023 at 6:06 pm)

Media and mental health: adolescence redefined

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