What can Positive Psychology provide as a toolkit for parents of teenagers tackling trends of social media overuse or suicidal thoughts.

As technology advances to the point where it has taken over as the biggest form of both social interaction and communication, whether as psychology practitioners or parents, we need to be aware of the increasing capacity for its impact on wellbeing.

A lack of likes

Social phenomena such as ‘a like for a like’ or lack of ‘likes’ has superseded all other forms of social approval and feelings of inclusivity. This means that if someone is posting to any of the various platforms used for social media such as twitter, instagram and Facebook, the risk to potentially fragile developing ego’s such as those of teens means that a post which receives little attention or negative comments or bullying often has a negative impact on their mental health.

This is a growing concern and has links to suicidal ideation, poor mental health outcomes, depression, anxiety and negative wellbeing.

One study looking at this generational trend and phenomena highlighted potential risk of social media overuse. Jean Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University, the study author states “We need to stop thinking of smartphones as harmless, There’s a tendency to say, ‘Oh, teens are just communicating with their friends.’ The recommendation is to limit usage to minimise risk of harmful effects.

In another study author (Dr. Victor Strasburger, specialist in teen medicine at University of New Mexico) states “With its immediacy, anonymity, and potential for bullying, social media has a unique potential for causing real harm”. A study from Pew Research found that 92% of teens are online actively daily. With nearly a quarter of those online “almost constantly.” This certainly demonstrates why there is a need to protect our teenagers with monitoring measures as well as providing protective factors against this.

’13 Reasons Why’

‘13 Reasons Why’ is a series that aired on Netflix centering on the life of a high school girl and the circumstances leading up to her subsequent graphically depicted suicide. Despite being acclaimed as highlighting and tackling a particularly tough topic, it left some worrying after effects. The Journal of the American Medical Association stated that “it is concerning that searches indicating suicidal ideation also rose.” Within 19 days after the show’s release, there were 900,000 to 1.5 million more google searches related to suicidal ideation, which is an extremely worrying outcome.

How can positive psychology help?

So how can Positive Psychology help buffer teens against the potential mental health risks associated with social media use and media which has potential negative outcomes such as seen after this particular show for example aired?

Monitoring teenagers use of phones and their social media accounts is important, as is setting reasonable limits on their daily usage, however building resilience to ensure that they can take the knocks may be just as important.

Helping them to realise that social media is an illusionary way of gauging how popular, liked or the amount of true friends that they have is crucial to positive wellbeing. It is also important that they realise just how manufactured or not true to life social media often is.

Validation through internal measures such as healthy self worth is also critical to ensuring that mental well-being, as well as mental health, do not continue to decline as some trends have already demonstrated.

The benefits of social interaction

Recognising the positive benefits of ‘real time’ social interactions with friends, family time and time outdoors in nature is also something that can provide a positive buffer. Parents of young teenagers just starting out with social media would benefit most from applying parameters to usage, setting boundaries from the beginning as to do so in currently habitual teenage users may prove difficult.

Young teens are beginning to form a real independent sense of self, outward of their parents and more focussed towards their peers. Helping them particularly to identify their own strengths and values will afford some immunity from the wrong type of vulnerability. Compassion for others, random acts of kindness and altruism all inevitably lead to a greater sense of satisfaction with life and a healthy sense of self. These are some of the best ways that Positive Psychology can help to turn this trend around.

About the author: To find out more about Caralyn Cox MAPP, please click here.


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