Skip to main content

6 alarming ways social media may be causing your teen anxiety

When today’s parents of teenagers were teens, social media wasn’t a factor (or at least a big one) in how things played out. We didn’t communicate by carrier pigeons, but Snapchat, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms weren’t first invented until 2004 didn’t become an integral part of daily life until the 2010s. Now, having a smartphone with a half dozen social media apps installed feels like a requirement of high school social life, but it can come with a price even if the apps are free.

Social media has been linked to causing anxiety in teens. We’ll go over how it does this — and what to do about it.

Teenager at home on social media
Andrea Piacquadio/

How does social media give you anxiety?

Social media can have a particular effect on teens who are still developing their sense of self compared to adults. While adults can also develop anxiety from comparing themselves to others they see online, for teens, these effects are magnified. Here are six ways social media can give teens anxiety.

  1. Placing too much emphasis on interactions you receive on social media, such as feeling disappointment when you post something and it doesn’t receive likes.
  2. Seeing filters on others’ photos and thinking those bodies and faces are real, leading to body dysmorphia or eating disorders.
  3. The pressure to post to look like you’re having fun, have a certain body, have a lot of friends, etc.
  4. Seeing posts of others hanging out together and feeling like you’re missing out.
  5. A dopamine rush when you’re on social media that goes away whenever you can’t be on it, like an addiction.
  6. The risk of being exploited, bullied, or harassed by unwanted messages from classmates, peers, adults, or strangers.

Why is social media is toxic?

The use of social media has been linked with anxiety, depression, addiction, and stress. It can also cause feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, loneliness, self-absorption, and low self-esteem.

When teens see unrealistic images of touched-up bodies on social media, they can develop unhealthy ideas about what their bodies should look like. Consuming these images every day can lead to believing these are realistic bodies and the more time on social media, the greater the idea that these are really what most people look like. This can lead to poor self-image, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders.

Unrealistic lifestyles can also be portrayed online. Teens may see social lives, alcohol use, or other habits they may feel pressured into, simply because their peers are posting about it on social media. They could feel left out because they see friends hanging out without them when they would have otherwise been happy with their night at home. The pressure to make similar posts showing a fancy wardrobe and perfect social life can increase teens’ anxiety.

Social media can also be addictive. You want to constantly see updates, get likes, watch more content, get new messages, and when you don’t you can have symptoms of withdrawal. This can increase their screen time by hours per day and impact their developing brains.

Having a social media profile also opens a teenager up to receiving comments or direct messages from others, sometimes people they know or sometimes strangers. The messages might be cruel comments from kids at school or they could be predatory messages from strangers lurking online trying to lure them into meeting in person or sending them nude pictures.

Teenager lying down using social media
Dan Kenyon/Getty Images

What can I do about social media causing my teen anxiety?

Talk with your teen openly and frequently about the differences between what they see on social media and real life. Explain how filters change what bodies look like in photos and also videos on social media and how people project happy lives on social media even when everything isn’t perfect offline. Balance their social media consumption with offline activities like team sports, reading books, family time, and other things you feel will help their self-esteem, body image, and social life.

Limit their time on social media and their screen time or phone time, in general, to help them unplug from all of the brain chemical imbalances too much of that can cause. Also, use a monitoring app to keep them safe so you’ll be alerted if they get a concerning message from a stranger. Talk to them about what is safe to post, safe to reply to, and when to talk to you about who they’re communicating with.

Communicate openly and often about all of the ways social media may cause anxiety. Be present and available to talk about any concerns they have and keep an eye out for signs of phone addiction or eating disorders so you can get them help if needed.

Editors' Recommendations

Sarah Prager
Sarah is a writer and mom who lives in Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, National…
See your child pecking at the keyboard? Try these typing games for kids to build this important skill
Introduce these typing games for kids as soon as possible to get your child's skills to a whole new level
Group of kids around laptops

Learning how to type is as important of a skill in a school’s curriculum as other foundations like reading and math. Technology has become an integral part of our lives in everything from work to school, where everything has some degree of it built into the daily routine. Proper typing is a vital skill that everyone should have, regardless of their occupation.

And, if you've ever texted with a kid, you know that their typing isn't always the best. If your child is doing the chicken pecking dance at the keyboard, there are typing games for kids to increase their speed, accuracy, and confidence. Here's why having great typing skills is something every child needs to have.
How typing relates to student success
With all the devices we have these days, are you ever not typing? Walk into a classroom, and you might see a few students finger tapping at the keyboard. Proper typing proves to be a time-saving skill, and sometimes it takes kids a minute to get there.

Read more
What to put in Easter Eggs for tweens and teens so they actually look forward to the hunt
Easter egg fillers tweens and teens won't roll their eyes at
Teen girls holding basket of Easter eggs wearing bunny ears

One of the best parts of an Easter egg hunt after finding the eggs is opening them to find out what's inside. That thrill doesn't really have an age limit. Tweens and teens still look forward to those family egg hunts on Easter even if they don't seem like it. Whether your kids are older or you're planning a multi-age egg hunt for the upcoming holiday, Easter egg fillers need to adjust as children age.

When your kiddos were toddlers, you used sweets and fun little toys as Easter egg stuffers. Well, now that they are tweens and teens, you need Easer egg fillers that will still appeal to their age. To keep older kids and teens interested in those family egg hunts and to keep the tradition alive, you've got to up your Easter egg filler ante. Don't worry! We've got fun Easter egg stuffer ideas that tweens and teens won't roll their eyes at.

Read more
Need advice on parenting teens? Get support from these Facebook groups just for you
The best Facebook groups for parenting teens advice
A parent and teen talking.

Parenting teens can be a challenge, but doing it with the support of other parents can make it easier. These Facebook groups are places to find advice and support from other parents of teens as sounding boards to help you figure out the dilemmas that come up, like discipline, body image issues, dating and sex, and building trust.

Moms of Teens Support Group
This group is exclusively for moms, while others are open to all parents, caregivers, educators, and others. Get support, trade advice, or just vent about how parenting a teenager is going.
Parenting in a Tech World
Teens finding information, strangers, bullies, or all manner of things online is a concern for any parent in the modern age. This group of over 288,000 parents discusses issues of social media, screen time, online safety, and more about parenting in a tech world.
Parents of Teens with Depression, Anxiety and OCD
From 2016 to 2019, 5.8 million teens had anxiety and 2.7 million had depression, and those numbers have been increasing since. Supporting your teen's mental health is a special skill that can take an emotional toll and takes work to find a delicate balance of how to approach. This group of over 25,000 parents can help you find support in a safe space.
Raising Teenage Boys Is HARD!!
No matter their gender, raising teenagers is hard, but there are special challenges that come along with raising teen boys. This group, run by Teen Thrive, is for those raising teenage boys and looking for advice about puberty, communication, substance use, dating, bullying, internet and gaming device use, and mental health.
Raising Teenage Girls Is HARD! Parenting Teens Support Group by Teen Thrive
The sister group to the one above and also run by Teen Thrive, this group is all about raising teen girls. Issues like menstruation, mental health, dating, academics, body image and self-confidence, and peer pressure can all be discussed with over 35,000 other parents here.
Teenager parenting (Raising teens)
With hundreds of new posts every month, this group is a teen parenting haven. You can read through what others ask to get ideas on how to handle what's to come, give advice to others if you've been in their shoes, and ask your own questions about how to handle your own struggles with your teenager.

Read more