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Penélope Cruz recently announced on CBS that her children aren’t allowed to use social media until they’re 16.

She said she felt bad for the teenagers. It is almost like the world is doing an experiment on them, exposing a young child to a lot of technology.

Cruz may have a point.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 90 percent of U.S. teens ages 13–17 use or have used social media.

They are also using it more frequently.

According to 2020 data from Statista, 63 percent of U.S. parents reported that their teens used more social media than they did before the pandemic.

This rise of social media use in young people coincides with a rise in mental health concerns. Many health experts are calling it a second pandemic.

For instance, according to Mental Health America (MHA), the number of youth who experienced a major depressive episode in 2021 increased by 206,000 from the previous year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide attempts among U.S. adolescents increased by 31 percent from 2019 to 2020, and emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts in 2021 were 51 percent higher among girls ages 12–17 than during the same period in 2019.

What does it all have to do with social media?

“The experts have said that social media is affecting young people’s mental health.”

Suicide attempts among U.S. adolescents increased by 31 percent from 2019 to 2020.

“Social media use increased during the pandemic for many young people,” explains Jaclyn Halpern, PsyD, director of the SOAR program at Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates. “In many cases, it became the primary source of social connection for tweens and teens who were otherwise unable to socialize with their friends.”

In a time of isolation, social media helped young people connect to their real-life social groups.

Isolation can take a toll on mental, emotional, and physical health.

According to a 2017 review, researchers found a significant association between social isolation and loneliness, noting a negative correlation with cardiovascular and mental health outcomes.

During the Pandemic, social media became the only way to stay in touch with friends and keep a social circle.

It acted as a mental and emotional lifeline.

Halpern says there are benefits to using social media. It can help teens feel connected to their peers.

Halpern says that social media can have benefits for young people.

These include:

  • connecting to others with similar interests
  • Learning about new things.
  • Identity building
  • Encouraging political and social engagement.
  • learning about other people

Researchers found a significant association between social isolation, loneliness, and negative cardiovascular and mental health outcomes.

Social media use may be helping and hurting at the same time.

Increased social media may have negatively impacted their mental and physical health, Halpern says.

Even before the pandemic, evidence suggested that social media may have negative effects on mental health.

For instance, a 2015 study found that U.K. children who used social networking sites for 3 hours or more on a school day were twice as likely to report high or very high scores for mental ill-health.

The studies done during the Pandemic show a more nuanced story.

A 2020 study analyzing 86,581,237 English-language Twitter posts found that there was a significant increase in social media use as stay-at-home mandates went into effect. The findings suggested that social media was being used as a coping mechanism to combat feelings of isolation related to long-term physical distancing.

Was it working?

The study said that people may reach for their phones to cope with negative feelings in the short term, but that social media use may increase negative feelings in the long term.

It turns out that it is more than just social media, it is the way it is used and how much.

A 2022 cross-national online survey of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Norway found that using social media for entertainment or to decrease loneliness during the pandemic was associated with poorer mental health. On the other hand, using social media for personal contact and maintaining relationships was associated with better mental health.

The study found that increased time on social media was associated with poorer mental health.

Many people, including youth, turn to social media in difficult times. Social media may make matters worse if it is used frequently.

Halpern says that social media has many risks.

These include:

Social media can lead to a feeling of pressure to present a perfect version of yourself.

Teens and young adults may feel the need to compete with peers and craft an identity that allows them to be seen as popular. They may take a lot of pictures before finding the perfect one, and worry about presenting themselves in a certain way, to do this.

An ExpressVPN survey of 1,500 Americans found that 86 percent of those ages 16 to 24 reported that social media directly negatively impacts their happiness.

Additional results were included.

  • The negative effects on self-esteem were reported by 85 percent.
  • The negative effects on self- image were reported by 85 percent.
  • 83 percent of people reported an increase in anxiety.
  • 81 percent of people reported an increase in loneliness.
  • The majority of people reported an increase in depression.

Eighty-six percent of Americans ages 16 to 24 report that social media directly negatively impacts their happiness.

After two years of relative isolation, young people are using social media at their highest levels.

Social media has become a necessity for most teens. Many people find it difficult to maintain friends without it.

It is possible to encourage young people to have a healthy relationship with their phones, even if quitting social media is unrealistic.

Halpern says that caregivers need to help with this. The benefits and risks of social media use can be discussed with caregivers.

It is important to discuss the illusion of social media with children.

Halpern says that much of what is posted on social media is not an accurate representation of reality. This knowledge can help reduce the pressure to create a perfect image.

It is important for young people to find a balance between the online and real world, and parents can lead by example.

This may mean adjusting some of the habits that were formed during the Pandemic.

Halpern suggests that young people should be given time for exercise and fresh air. You can model screen time and use of social media.

Encourage kids and teens to have fun with their family and friends. They can go to the movies, a park, a pool, or even make video calls to friends and family far away.

“Want to know how to manage your family’s social media use? It is possible, but it may take some effort.”

Halpern says that caregivers can help their kids create a balanced lifestyle by monitoring social-media use and setting realistic limits.

Bookend your days with social-free time

Set a time period in the morning and evening that is phone-free to wake up and sleep.

The first hour of waking can set the tone for the rest of the day. The last hour before sleep is the perfect time to get ready for bed.

Create a phone-free zone

Designate a specific place or two in the home to be completely phone-free.

This can be the dinner table to encourage conversation at dinner time. If you want to prevent devices from getting dropped in the toilet, it can be the bathroom.

Make it a game

You can make kids use less social media by giving them incentives.

With tracking apps like Social Fever and StayFree, you can see just how much time you and your family spend on social media. You can offer rewards to the family member who uses theirs the least, like getting to choose the next restaurant for takeout or what you’ll do for the weekend family outing.

This gives youth the power to get involved in the management of their social media use and gives them a positive alternative, like eating their favorite food or spending time with their family.

Take a communal break

Have you heard of a social media cleanse? You can try one with your family.

You simply set a time frame for when you will be taking a break from social and stick to it. It could be just one day.

You can support each other in choosing other connection-based activities if you and your family reach for your phones.

Break out the board games, take a walk, or cook a meal together.

If you need alone time, you can take a reading break, work on an art project, or do a crossword puzzle, and then sit and reflect.

Have a conversation

Most young people are aware of the impact social media has on them.

A survey of 1,042 U.S. citizens found that 29 percent of respondents felt they needed to take a social media break to feel better. The number went up to 46 percent among the younger generation.

The results show that young people have self-awareness to recognize the effects of social media on their well-being.

You can start a conversation with your kids about social media by using a simple tool. That means you can help out.

A Healthline survey indicates that young people have the self-awareness to recognize the effects of social media on their well-being.

Social media has its share of drawbacks, and it may offer benefits during times of isolation.

It is possible to enjoy the positive side of social media with responsible management.

Adults and youth can use their social media time to connect with each other.

Meg is a freelance journalist and features writer who covers culture, entertainment, lifestyle, and health. Her writing has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Shondaland, Healthline, HelloGiggles, Reader’s Digest, Apartment Therapy, and more. Find her on Twitter at @wordsbyMeg or on her website at