Experts: Teen social media use has its benefits, drawbacks (2024)

The U.S. surgeon general’s recent call for warning labels on social media platforms has experts reflecting on both the positives and negatives of hot apps like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and more.

Local experts agree every teen is different and best social media usage practices for each will vary. They were clear, however, that social media is not all bad.

Dr. Paul Kettlewell, a retired Geisinger pediatric psychologist and department leader who continues to work with community organizations, said the American Psychological Association issued a response to the surgeon general’s announcement indicating social media is not quite a black-and-white issue.

“Social media has positives and negatives. We shouldn’t paint it as ‘it’s all bad or good’ relating to consequences for teenagers,” Kettlewell said. “Furthermore, it’s pretty clear it’s here to stay.”

John Monopoli, assistant professor of psychology at Susquehanna University, said the impact of social media on teens and their mental health depends on how they use it.

“Research shows kids who are using it, if they’re using it for purposes that are healthy: finding community, commiserating about something else, but doing it in a ‘getting off your chest’ way, that can be fine,” Monopoli said. “If they’re using it to follow news or further intellectual pursuits, I think these things are fine. Comparing themselves to others, which inspires feelings of depression, anxiety and so on, that’s probably more of a concern. It really depends on what they’re doing.”

Pertaining to warning labels, Monopoli said his understanding is they go on items that are always bad, like cigarettes, which is not the case with social media.

“The research on social media use is pretty mixed,” he said. “Some studies find it is associated with mental health problems while some don’t. We are still asking questions about causality or fault.”

The surgeon general’s call for action is a bit of a stretch, according to the professor.

“I think everyone has to do what works for them,” Monopoli said. “You can look at the mixed research and say we still need action. My fear is that the nuance is going to be lost in those kinds of conversations.”

The emotional case for cyberbullying and transparency issues is a big concern for teens, parents and teachers, Monopoli said.

Teens expressed their concerns about social media’s lack of transparency and the potential for easy cyberbullying when hidden behind a screen.

Kamryn Michaels, a rising Danville senior, said her biggest concern is the facade social media creates.

“You can put whatever you want on social media. There is no transparency and no way to really stop that,” Michaels said. “You can pick what you want and customize how you want others to see you.”

Both influencers and regular users can create a false sense of themselves using social media, leading teens to try to meet unrealistic expectations, Michaels said.

Michaels and Garrett Hoffman, also a rising Danville senior, are co-presidents of their school’s Students Preserving Mental Health club.

For Hoffman, the biggest concern with social media is the potential for cyberbullying.

“It affects people big time,” Hoffman said. “People can hide behind social media to bully.”

Michaels said she has tried to set limits when it comes to screen time. She and her peers agree social media is addictive and it is all too easy to get trapped in a doom scroll.

“I know many kids who say technology is kind of addicting. You can pick it up, and it’s just as hard to quit as anything else,” Michaels said. “You can set settings for app time limits and screen time limits and who can contact you, but there is always a way around it.”

Today’s teens are a unique generation as no one really knew the affects social media would have on them, according to Michaels.

“I think I got into technology and social media a little too early. I wish things had been a little more censored,” Michaels said. “You find out a lot and there is no stopping it. Everything is at your fingertips.”

When she becomes a parent herself, Michaels said she plans to be more protective of her kids when it comes to social media use.

Kettlewell suggested parents set limits when it comes to social media usage.

“It’s critical parents set limits on what their children are doing, whether or not they have cellphones, and how social media is managed,” Kettlewell said.

The decision to allow a child to have a cellphone in the first place requires some degree of maturity and a sense of trust between parent and child. Kettlewell said most will agree a cellphone is not necessary prior to middle school.

How a cell phone gets used is where limit setting comes in, according to Kettlewell. The doctor suggested limits, such as no cellphones at dinner time, and said parents should model that limit.

Limits might also be placed on nighttime phone usage. Depending on the age, “9 p.m. might be a good time to say ‘we are done with cellphones’ and then it gets charged outside of the student’s room,” Kettlewell said.

“There are very few good reasons for a middle or high schooler to use a cell phone late at night,” he added. “Many parents of teens don’t put those limits on a cellphone. To me, that’s just good common sense and appropriate limits.”

Parents might also set limits on what websites and apps are available for their children, Kettlewell said.

Perhaps more than anything else, parents should aim to maintain a close relationship with their child so when it comes time to review their phone or make a suggestion regarding usage, the child trusts their parent’s intentions, according to the doctor.

“Do everything you can to continue a relationship with your child. Be involved with their life. If a parent is involved in their sports or music activities, it’s a way to connect,” Kettlewell said. “Sometimes it’s not so easy, but the most important way to protect your kid is to have a good relationship with your child.”

Experts: Teen social media use has its benefits, drawbacks (2024)


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