October 27, 2021

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Facebook Acknowledged It Has A Problem, But Teen Users May Have To Face It On Their Own

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As previously reported, last month Facebook’s own internal data acknowledged that its Instagram platform resulted in body image disorders in one in three teenage girls. Instead of seeking to resolve the issue, Facebook fired back and stated that it wasn’t accurate that the research had demonstrated that the platform was in fact “toxic” for teen girls.

Experts say that isn’t good enough, and that social media platforms should do more in operating responsibly when it comes to the mental health of its young users.

“Social media sites need a mental health warning label that is readily visible to users,” suggested Dr. Allison Forti, associate teaching professor and associate director of the Department of Counseling Online Programs at Wake Forest University.

“They also need to provide free, downloadable guidebooks for users on how to use their platform safely,” Forti added. “This guidebook should include transparency on how the algorithms are built to maintain users’ attention, as well as the pitfalls explaining the need for a mental health warning label. They need to acknowledge the risk involved with engaging on their sites. Ultimately, social media sites need to increase transparency so users have informed consent for what they choose to consume and how they choose to participate.”

Platforms such as Facebook could be also be more proactive to these issues.

“Social media sites should periodically post content providing education to users,” recommended Jennifer Henry, licensed professional counselor and director of the Counseling Center at Maryville University. “This could be added to the user’s news feed or could be something they read when they sign up for an account with the site.”

Teens On Their Own Online

Parents should still pay attention to their teenage children’s online activities, and while limiting time spent on the platforms could be an option, it seems that simply pulling the plug on social media isn’t the solution. 

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“Social media is woven into the fabric of our culture so complete social media abstinence for teens is unrealistic,” said Forti.

With that in mind, teens and parents need extensive education and support surrounding the darkside of social media,” she added. “Time spent on social media is correlated with a decrease in mental health so setting time limits is one strategy to buffer deleterious effects. App time trackers are available to monitor use. Set concrete and measurable goals of how much time you want to devote to social media.”

Forti further suggested a 30-day “social media detox,” which she said could “disrupt the dopamine related pleasure and pain cycle in the brain.”

After this, teen users could return to social media with strict rules and boundaries that might include deleting social media apps from the phone or blocking social media apps during certain times of the day.

“Teens may benefit from a ‘no phone zone’ during meals, study time, or hanging out with friends so they can be present,” explained Forti.

Other Tips To Reduce The Bad Feelings

Unfortunately, today many of the platforms have become “anti-social” networks. While teens may not be engaging in the same political discussions that are deepening our national divide, the platforms are often making teens feel worse about themselves as influencers are paid to look good and be constantly positive.

For teens this may present unrealistic views of the world.

“Social media is basically a ‘highlight reel’ of people’s lives,” explained Henry. “Users need to be reminded of this, when they catch themselves thinking everyone else is so much happier/better looking/more popular than them.”

Henry added that teens also need to be reminded that the number of “likes” one gets from a post does not indicate how many people love or care about them. “It’s also important for teens to know what they see on social media is not reality.”

Healthy Social Media Usage

The experts also said that parents need to play an active role in helping their teen balance social media, and the rules should be the same for all. If a teen can’t use his/her phone at the dinner table than the same should hold true for parents – even when it could be an important call from work. While there can be exceptions in rare instances, it shouldn’t be the norm.

“Parents may need to self-reflect on their own social media behaviors, because they serve as role models for their children,” said Forti. “It’s important teens are taught how to use social media; it’s not a game or a harmless activity. It requires a great deal of education. Parents should seek out resources and information on digital wellness and review it with their children.”

Teens may also need support from each other, especially to counteract the dreaded “FOMA” – Fear Of Missing Out. That remains a significant issue across social media.

“If all your friends are engaging on Snapchat throughout the day and you’re not, you may feel left out, forgotten, or disconnected,” said Forti. “Strategies might include agreeing to take a digital detox challenge week so everyone is limiting social media simultaneously, reminding each other to put phones away when hanging out together, or agreeing not to document all of their social events on social media. Other strategies could revolve around filling up their lives with more interesting things than scrolling or posting messages – join the swim team, learn an instrument, write a short story, record a podcast, or volunteer. Small behavioral changes over time can shift the culture away from the all consuming grip of social media and create a more fulfilled, meaningful, and connected life.”

Finally, as the t-shirts and song lyrics may remind us, “haters are gonna hate,” but that’s mean we need to accept it.

“Remember that you control your news feed,” Henry noted. “I would suggest hiding or unfollowing anyone whose social media leads you to feel bad. If you find that a classmate is constantly posting work out videos and diet tips and this is triggering for you, hide that person’s account. Intentionally seek out people to ‘follow’ who promote self-acceptance, positivity, and sense of belonging. Fill your news feed with people and pages that share positive messages. Become the curator of your own news feed, focusing on making it hopeful, healthy, encouraging, and a positive place for you to spend time!”

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