It used to be that teens wanted to be liked by their peers. Now, they just
"Popularity has always been important for preteens and adolescents," says
Maureen Villasenor, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. "Now that kids spend so much time on social media, the gauge of
peer acceptance has become the number of tags and replies to their Facebook
posts or how many hearts their photos earn on Instagram. So that can become
a source of anxiety and depression--not just if a teen thinks he or she
doesn't get enough online attention, but the pressure to cultivate
an online persona that other kids may approve of, even if it doesn't
reflect the teen's true nature."
In fact, teen brains are predisposed to crave social media likes. A recent
study in the journal
Psychological Science found that seeing likes on photos triggered the same parts of the brain
that were associated with pleasure and reward. Also, the teens who participated
in the study were influenced by likes on photos they were shown--the more
likes a photo had, the greater chance the teens would give it their stamp
of approval as well. "Social media holds great sway over young people,
so it's important that parents set up guidelines for online activity,"
Dr. Villasenor says.
Set limits. "If teens spend a great deal of time online, they can feel more
pressure to always be 'on'--checking their social media accounts,
texting, posting and seeing what others are posting on their pages,"
Dr. Villasenor says. "That can lead to anxiety. Kids need time to
relax, to focus on other pursuits. Make house rules, such as no screens
in the bedroom or at the kitchen table, or designate a certain amount
of screen time each day. They need to spend time living their social life
Encourage face-to-face time with friends. "People tend to communicate differently online than they do when
they are talking to each other in person," Dr. Villasenor says. "There
are cues people give with their facial expressions, gestures and tone
of voice that tell others what they are feeling. Those are things that
can't be grasped online, and teens can miss out on developing those
communication skills if they don't have enough interpersonal interactions.
Parents should open up their homes and let their kids know they can bring
friends over--and at any group gathering, parents should collect the teens'
cell phones, returning them when the friends leave."
Keep communication open. "Parents should know what their child is looking at on social media,"
Dr. Villasenor says. "That can be done in a couple of ways. Parents
can require their kids to 'friend' them on social media accounts
so the parents can see the feeds. And parents can make a point to talk
often with their children about what the kids post, and see, online. Parents
should show interest and ask questions, establishing that they are invested
in this aspect of their child's lives. Finally, parents should encourage
their children to talk with them about any troubling or inappropriate
content or cyberbullying."
Dedicate time to developing hobbies or skills. "Children who have talent or interest in something, such as sports,
art or music, can develop a sense of self-worth and confidence, which
can help guard them against comparing themselves negatively to others
who seem to have the perfect life online," Dr. Villasenor says. "They
can also meet peers with like interests and make friends that way."
Follow the same rules as the kids. "Parents who are constantly online checking their Facebook accounts
are setting an example for their kids, and not in a good way," Dr.
Villasenor says. "Quality family time is important for everyone,
so have the screens off as much as possible when everyone is together
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.