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Teens use social media more and more in recent years.

According to the 2021 Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens:

  • The amount of time teens spent outside the classroom increased by 17 percent from 2019.
  • The average teen spent 87 minutes a day on social media.
  • Sixty percent of teens use social media daily, but only 34% of teens enjoy using it.

Within the same rough timeframe, adolescent mental health has taken an alarming decline. In 2021, 44 percent of high schoolers reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to a nationally representative survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

This concern isn’t limited to older teens, either. A review of 29 studies explored mental health during the pandemic in over 80,000 children and adolescents worldwide. One in four youths had depression symptoms, nearly double the global rate before the pandemic.

Without a doubt, feelings of depression can relate to grief, trauma, and any of the challenging circumstances teens find themselves grappling with. Still, with a recognized link between social media use and depression in adults, you might wonder whether your teen’s social media use might play some role in depression, or any other mental health symptoms they experience.

Does the internet offer a social support system? Is it more of an anchor, weighing kids down? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

“Social media can affect adolescents’ mental health.”

Research from 2019 suggests teens are more likely to have a depressed mood if they spend a lot of time and effort on their social media accounts. Filtered images and curated timelines can cut down teens’ self-esteem, making them feel ugly or boring compared to their peers. They may also encounter more harassment and cyberbullying.

On the other hand, evidence also suggests that social media can boost mental health. Teens who feel depressed might go online to reach out to friends experiencing similar issues, for instance. Some teens may even form digital support groups, offering sympathy and advice to peers also coping with depression symptoms.

According to a 2017 review, the effects of social media depend more on the person than the platform. Teens with strong social skills and self-esteem often use social media to enhance their lives. They may go online to stay in touch with school friends or share their artwork on internet forums.

Social media’s impact can depend on how teens use it

Teens who are depressed are more likely to use social media in less beneficial ways.

They might rely on the internet for all their social needs, which can make them less interested in school or family activities. Small dips in their account views can damage their self-esteem or reinforce negative self-perceptions.

Some teens may be at risk for depression because of social media. It can make depression worse.

There are possible mental health risks of social media.


When your teen goes online, they may encounter bullies from school, anonymous trolls, sexual harassment, and more. According to 2020research, internet harassment can create drastic shifts in teens’ mood, often making them feel ashamed, afraid, and humiliated. In some cases, cyberbullying can lead to thoughts of suicide.

Social comparisons

Teens are encouraged to compare themselves to their peers on social media. It is natural to have a general sense of your social status, but it is not helpful to spend hours fretting over where you fit into the food chain.

Experts have linked excessive social comparison behaviors to depression. Teens who spend their time envying others’ lives or mulling over their own shortcomings tend to have higher levels of depression.

If you consider yourself the least popular, funniest, or attractive person in your friend group, it can be hard to cultivate self-worth.


Social media is a time sink. You might have felt apang of realization after you spent most of your weekend browsing the internet instead of doing anything.

Teens in school may experience a mixture of regret and panic as they rush through their homework. Teens might forget about self-care when they get so wrapped up in the digital world. They may.

All of the above can be a factor in depression.

Encourage your teen to create their own self-care list.


During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic or a mass shooting, teens may find themselves scrolling compulsively through post after post on the subject. They may feel unable to turn away from the endless updates on their feed, even as their stress and worries ramp up.

Staying informed is important, absolutely. But 2020 research suggests ruminating over the many upsetting things taking place around the world for hours on end can make teens feel worse than they otherwise would.

It’s essential for adolescents — and everyone else — to take breaks from news and current events and get reacquainted with life’s small pleasures, like the smell of fresh muffins or birds singing outside the window.

Social media use can pose a few risks, but it can also be a powerful tool for emotional support.

There are some mental health benefits of social media.

Connecting with friends and family

If you live far apart or have different schedules, social media makes it easier to stay in touch with your loved ones. Social connection is important for mental well-being for teenagers as their brains mature.

During the disruption of remote schooling and lockdowns, many teenagers felt stressed and alone. But according to findings from the 2021 CDC survey mentioned above, high schoolers who felt more connected to adults and peers at school were less likely to:

  • feel persistently sad or hopeless
  • seriously consider suicide
  • Attempt suicide.

How to help someone talk about suicide.

Need to talk?

If you or your teen are having thoughts of suicide or simply feeling overwhelmed by emotional distress, you have options for support.

If you call or text a crisis hotline, you can get in touch with trained, compassionate crisis counselors who can help you deal with those feelings.

Meeting new people

“Teenagers may find their people online when they don’t fit in at school or home. Even if the parties are not all in the same room, digital friendship can still provide life-changing bonds. Your teen and their online friends may share a hobby, have a diagnosis in common, or just enjoy each other’s company.”

Research from 2018 suggests marginalized teenagers, including LGBTQIA+ teens, can particularly benefit from online friendships. The internet offers many safe havens for teens to anonymously explore and get comfortable with their identities. Feeling accepted by distant friends, or even complete strangers, can make a huge difference.


Mental health has become less taboo among younger generations. Teens are more likely to come across posts where peers discuss their own mental health conditions when they browse social media.

“Awareness posts can still spark conversation and provide more information even if they don’t always contain the most accurate details.”

Teens who don’t recognize their depression as a mental health condition might blame their symptoms on hormones or personality. Learning other teens also have depression — and the steps they take to manage it — could motivate them to seek help.

While social media itself is neither bad nor good, your teen could have an unhealthy relationship with social media if they:

  • Even if they say they want to cut back, they seem to check their accounts.
  • They seem angry, sad, or withdrawn after looking at their phone.
  • Even for short periods like family dinner, they get agitated when they have to go offline.
  • In favor of social media time, neglect sleep, homework, or meals.

“If you think social media is affecting your teen’s mental health, you might want to take their devices away.”

“Social media is a key part of how teenagers socialize. You can cut out driving and sexual exploration, but you can’t cut out the internet. Teaching kids how to enjoy these things in moderation is an important part of parenting.”

These tips can help you teach your teen to set some boundaries around social media use.

Ask questions

You will need to understand more about their online experience in order to help your teen.

The best way to figure it out? Try to ask directly.

Ask your teen

  • What are you watching?
  • Who are you talking to?
  • What do you like about using social media? You can ask if it distracts you from negative feelings.

It is more effective to talk about their daily activities rather than throwing these questions at your teen.

Set reasonable limits

You can come up with a few ways to address the issue if you know more about what is driving their behavior.

If they lose track of time on the internet and stay up late, you could set a family rule that all devices get charged in the kitchen overnight.

Try to make sure your teen is not seen as being special in the family.

Avoid snooping

“Teenagers need privacy. It is difficult to express yourself when your parent is always hovering over you. It’s as effective as banning the internet entirely if you flip through their phone daily or insist on reading their chat logs and texts. It really doesn’t help.”

Ironically, experts note that parents who try to force information out of their teen often know less about their social media habits than if they had done nothing at all. Many teens learn to hide problems from parents to avoid being “punished” with isolation or surveillance.

Yet a trusting parent-child relationship often creates the ideal context for a teen to open up, ask for support, and explore healthier digital habits. Building open communication can take time. In the long run, though, trust may prove more effective than strict monitoring.

Teens with depression might use social media to cope with their symptoms.

Asking questions and encouraging healthier internet habits can be done by a parent. A therapist can offer more support by helping your teen address depression and any other long-standing concerns, whether they directly relate to social media use or not.

A therapist can help with some social media-related concerns.

  • Anhedonia. Some teens who feel emotionally numb may turn to memes or online arguments in order to push themselves into feeling something.
  • Brain fog. Teens who feel groggy and unfocused may scroll through social media because they can’t summon the mental energy to do anything else.
  • Existential fears.Teens worried about climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other threats may constantly check their feeds for updates on new crises.
  • Low self-esteem. Teens with a low opinion of themselves may draw their sense of value from social media likes and follows.
  • Peer pressure. Teens hoping to go viral might try dangerous pranks or risky activities.
  • School issues. A teen having trouble understanding material at school may procrastinate by going online instead of asking a parent, friend, or teacher for help.
  • Social anxiety. Teens who fear judgment or rejection from others may retreat to the digital world, where they can communicate through a screen and avoid conversations that trigger fears of criticism.

Getting professional support for these concerns can help reduce feelings of depression and improve a teen’s quality of life — both online and off.

Social media can be used as a scapegoat for teen depression, but the digital landscape is too vast to be solely good or bad. Some teens with depression may benefit from the social support they find online, while others may find that using social media makes their symptoms worse.

Social media is best enjoyed in moderation. A good first step is to start a conversation.

Some concerning online behaviors may mask deeper emotional distress, but you can help your teen by listening to their needs and connecting them with a therapist.

Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.