By Lauren Ranalli, MPH | May 5, 2021
Director of Marketing and Communications, ETR
When it comes to social media and mental health, it’s common to first think about the negative link between the two. However, social media can also provide a great benefit to adolescents and young adults. According to a recent research study, 53% of young people ages 14 to 22 say social media has been very important to them in staying connected to friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 34% say social media has been very important for staying informed about current events. Additionally, 43% of social media users in this age group report that social media makes them feel better rather than worse when they feel depressed, stressed, or anxious.
So how can we as health professionals, educators, parents, or guardians help leverage the positive aspects of social media and online technology?
Let’s look at 6 examples of how social media and other online platforms can have both a positive and negative influence on emotional health:
Positive examples: Meeting like-minded friends through online games, offering a way to express things about yourself that make you unique, helping you discover new interests.
Negative examples: Comparing yourself to others, feeling pressured to look or act a certain way, only sharing good things in an attempt to be more “perfect” than you are.
Positive examples: Sharing how you feel even if you’re not physically with someone, using emojis to show feelings if you can’t find the right words, expressing difficult feelings in a safer environment.
Negative examples: Not being able to guess someone’s tone or true feelings, people might not know how you really feel if they can’t see you, writing “LOL” doesn’t feel the same as actually laughing out loud with someone.
Positive examples: Communicating with people who are far away, getting to know someone before meeting in person, making it easier to make plans as a group.
Negative examples: Spending so much time online that you aren’t connecting with friends and family in person, misunderstandings can spread easily and quickly.
Positive examples: Liking and complimenting your friends’ posts, offering support if someone messages that they feel down, posting comments or contributing to causes you believe in.
Negative examples: People saying mean things online that they wouldn’t share in person, cyberbullying, other forms of online harassment, a message of concern might be misunderstood without tone of voice and nonverbal cues.
Positive examples: Sharing about a difficult day to blow off steam, getting support from friends if you’re feeling sad or upset, using social media to escape some of the stress of real life.
Negative examples: Trying to keep up with everything online can be stressful, added pressure about how you look or whom you know, using social media too much to escape means you may not deal with issues when you need to.
Positive examples: Speaking up when someone is being mean or unfair online, having control over what you post about yourself, making a decision to never post anything mean, untrue, or embarrassing about others.
Negative examples: People using online forums to blame others for their problems, not having control over what other people post about you, using social media as a distraction that keeps you from getting things done.
Social media, online gaming, and other forms of technology play a role in many young people’s lives. In our work and relationships with adolescents, we can help them learn how to make sure these platforms contribute to their emotional health in positive ways.
This content was adapted from ETR’s science-based comprehensive health curriculum, HealthSmart. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about HealthSmart’s lesson plans for emotional and mental health (among other topics) for grades K –12 and discuss opportunities for your community.
Lauren Ranalli, MPH (she/her/hers) is a public health professional and the Director of Marketing and Communications at ETR. She can be reached at email@example.com.