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It can be hard (or nearly impossible) for some of us to imagine not having our smartphone in our hands or within reach at all times. We rely on our phones for a multitude of things: staying in touch with loved ones, storing memories like photos and videos, online shopping and, of course, social media.

New online communities and apps are available daily, and at times it can feel hard to keep up with what everyone else is doing or posting. The latest data from Pew Research shows that 72% of Americans use some form of social media. This is especially true for teens and young adults. In fact, a recent survey found that 45% of teens are online almost constantly and 97% use a social media platform, like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.

Social media allows us to connect to people we might otherwise not interact with, and it can be a great tool for sharing ideas, cultures and information. But for all the good it does, it is not without harm. Social media can expose teens to content that may negatively affect their mental health – things like cyberbullying, unrealistic views of others’ lives, rumor spreading and peer pressure. According to the teen Mental Health First Aid curriculum, some studies have even suggested that social media use can lead to increased risk of depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation in some teens.

If you’re struggling with your online life, or you think a friend is, we have some tips from the teen Mental Health First Aid curriculum to help:

  1. Take breaks. Sometimes we consume much more social media than we realize. If you notice a friend posting worrying status updates, tweets, photos or anything that could point to them not being OK, try starting a conversation. If social media is doing more harm than good, encourage them to take a break. A social media “cleanse” is a great way to shut out the noise and shift the focus back to the relationships and activities they can control.
  2. Reach out by text, private or direct message. One of the beautiful things about social media is that we can connect with people we might not have otherwise. These new types of relationships are great for exchanging cultures, ideas and information. A downside of these relationships is you may not always be able to have a face-to-face conversation. If you notice a friend struggling online but don’t have a way to support them in person, try messaging them privately or video chatting. Ask them how they’re doing and voice your concerns.
  3. Identify resources for support. If a friend online is struggling and comes to you for help, it’s important to have resources readily available to share with them – especially if they’re not in your area. The JED Foundation’s extremely valuable resource, “Help a Friend in Need,” provides information for teens about warning signs they may see online and tips for supporting friends.

We have much to gain from the connections we make, relationships we cultivate and new information we discover through social apps and websites. However, it’s becoming increasingly important to recognize any warning signs among your friends, followers and even those you follow. We are able to forge these entirely new social circles and friend groups online, and you can #BeTheDifference by lending your support to your friends online regardless of where they are.

For more information how you can support your friends online and in real life, check out these blogs and resources:

Your school or youth-serving organization can bring teen Mental Health First Aid training to your community. For more information about tMHFA, visit MHFA.org/teens.

 

References:

Jed Foundation, Facebook, Instagram & Clinton Foundation. (n.d.). Help a friend in need. https://www.jedfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/help-a-friend-in-need-jed-facebook-instagram-guide-NEW.pdf

Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). teen Mental Health First Aid: A manual for young people in 10th-12th grade helping their friends. National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

Pew Research Center. (April 7, 2021). Social Media Use in 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/04/07/social-media-use-in-2021/

Pew Research Center. (April 7, 2021). Social Media Fact Sheet. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/

Pew Research Center. (May 2018). Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2018/05/PI_2018.05.31_TeensTech_FINAL.pdf