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What Social Media is Doing to Teenagers

At Sundance Canyon Academy, we work with a lot of families who are concerned about the influence that social media has on their teens. It is becoming much more common for teens and tweens to have social media pages and rely on them for social interaction. If you are concerned that your teen’s social media use leads to mental health problems like depression or anxiety, contact us for more information about treatment options.

In the past decade, social media platforms have become more popular than most of us ever thought possible. Billions of people worldwide now have social media accounts on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Though most people who access social media sites are adults, teens also spend a significant amount of time on social media websites and apps.

It’s relatively easy to access social media sites and receive updates from them. When sites like Myspace and Facebook first came out, you could only access them on a computer. You can’t download an app or get updates on your phone. You had to physically log in on your computer to see what was going on, and typically, there wasn’t much happening.

Today, there are multiple popular social media sites, and it seems like new ones pop up all the time. You can access the sites on a computer or smartphone. If you have a smartwatch, you can even get notifications sent to the device on your wrist. You can interact with others via typing, talking, sending pictures, or sending videos. Teens can access their social media apps at home, at school, and everywhere in between.

Popular social media platforms

Though Facebook was the most popular social media site in 2021, most users were adults. Some teens have a Facebook profile, but Facebook is more popular with Millenials and up. Gen Z doesn’t care about Facebook as much as other apps.

Overall, the top 5 most popular social media apps in 2021 were:

1. Facebook: 2.74 billion users

2. YouTube: 2.29 billion users

3. WhatsApp: 2.0 billion users

4. Facebook Messenger: 1.3 billion users

5. Instagram: 1.22 billion users

These stats refer to users of any age, not just teens. It’s also important to note that platforms like YouTube are designed to reach various audiences. You can purchase a subscription and watch movies and TV shows. You can watch music videos or tutorial videos. You can keep up with the latest dance moves and up-and-coming stars. If you’re a parent, you can even get a YouTube channel for your kids and let them watch children’s shows on their tablets.

Many of today’s teens and tweens grew up using platforms like YouTube to watch videos to keep themselves entertained. As they’ve grown up, they keep using social media platforms as a means of entertainment and connection.

Teens and social media use

With so much access to social media platforms and so many options to choose from, teens end up spending a lot of time on social media sites. In some ways, this helps them stay connected with their peers and lets them keep up with current trends. Many teen interactions include cell phones or references to things they’ve seen online.

As you might imagine, though, there’s a cost associated with so much screen time. Overall, too much social media use can be bad for teens.

Social media dependence

Teens can become reliant on their phones and apps to connect with others. Without their smartphone, they feel lost and isolated from everyone else. They don’t know what to do with boredom or downtime anymore.

Constant connectivity

It used to be that you would interact with your classmates at school, then go home and get a break from school life. School life and home life could be kept separate. Now, teens can’t get away from school drama. If they miss out on anything major while they’re away from their phone, they might feel left out when they get back to school the next day.


For kids who have a bully at school, social media can make things so much worse! Now the bully can pick on them online as well. The bully can post embarrassing pictures or videos that everyone can see. And every time the teen sees a peer comment on the post or “like” the post, they know that they’re being mocked again.


The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is real. Teens know that there’s always something going on, and they want to be part of it. Now that everyone posts so much about their lives online, your teen can see exactly what they’re missing out on. They know if there’s a party they weren’t invited to. They know if their friends got to do something fun while they were stuck at home.

Teens also don’t want to miss out on some cool new trends. They want to keep up with the latest dances and funny videos. They want to know the latest music and icons. If they don’t stay on social media, they might miss something.

Keeping up with the Joneses

It’s an old phrase, but the heart of it still holds true. Teens want to keep up with their peers. They don’t want to be left behind, and they don’t want to be seen as less than their peers. They want acceptance, but social media acceptance is fleeting. It’s a lot of work to be trendy all the time, and you can lose your audience at any given moment. Social media apps are designed to keep kids coming back for more to not feel like they’re being left behind.

When teens see a new trend forming on social media, they want to be part of it too. This becomes especially problematic when the goal is out of reach. If they see ads for something cool that they can’t afford, they start to feel bad about themselves. Likewise, when they see online models looking “hotter” than them, they begin to feel bad about themselves. Teens desperately want to be valued and accepted, but social media presents them with unattainable goals.

If you notice that your teen seems depressed or anxious when they spend a lot of time online, they might need a break from social media. Some teens struggle with separating themselves from their online persona.

If your teen son’s social media usage is too extreme, he might need a complete break from his online life. Contact us today to find out how a residential treatment center could help your son.

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