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Is Social Media Bad for Teens and Young Adults?

  • By Lisa Petty

Is social media bad for young adults? It's a question we've all asked ourselves, and the answer--or rather, answers--may surprise you.

Earlier this year, London's Royal Society for Public Health conducted a survey of nearly 1,500 14-to-24 year olds on the subject of social media. As the world's longest-established public health body, the RSPH focused the effort on how five major social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube) are affecting the health and well-being of young people.

The final report delivers more than a few surprises. Plus, it proves that the news isn't all bad when it comes to posting, scrolling, liking and sharing. Read on to learn which social media site has the worst effect on the health and well-being of young people, which can offer a positive experience and much more.

It’s More Addictive Than You Think

The fact that social media can be addictive isn't surprising, but this report puts its power in perspective. Not only have some experts suggested that social media could be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, but approximately five percent of young people are thought to be addicted.

Anxiety & Depression

As detailed in the report, young people who spend more than two hours per day on social media sites, "are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression)." A key trigger may be the sites' endless streams of idealized images, depicting the seemingly perfect lives of others.

Losing Sleep

As the line between screen time and bedtime continues to blur, sleep suffers--for adults and kids alike. When it comes to young people, some 20 percent say they're actually waking up during the night to check social media feeds. This loss of sleep can lead to fatigue during the school day and can negatively impact academic performance.

Self - Esteem

With body-positive messages proliferating in the media, cultivating a positive self-image in kids is top-of-mind for parents. Social media, though, may be counteracting their efforts. One study examined in the report found that after simply spending time on Facebook, young girls expressed a, “heightened desire to change their appearance.”


A startling 70 percent of young people reported experiencing cyberbullying, with 37 percent reporting that it occurred frequently. Bullying can impact countless aspects of an individual's life, including sleeping and eating, school performance, self-esteem and social development.

Healthier Together

Turning to the positive, the report highlights the benefits of social networking for those with health issues. "Reading blogs or watching vlogs on the personal health issues of others their own age may improve young people's health literacy, prompt individuals to access relevant health services and enable individuals to better explain their own health circumstances or make better health choices," details the report.

Support System

Another uplifting fact is nearly 70 percent of teens reported receiving support via social media during a difficult time. Especially for those who may not benefit from such support at home or at school, social media can be a valuable resource.

Beneficial connections

Social media is, by definition, a means for making connections. Young people have the ability to find and interact with like-minded peers like never before. Whether nearby or around the world, united by a common interest, talent or career goal, connecting with these individuals and groups provides a sense of community–and so much more.

Self Expression

"Social media can act as an effective platform for accurate and positive self-expression, letting young people put forward their best self," asserts the report. This can take the form of sharing photos or describing meaningful experiences in one's own words. Various platforms are also popular for sharing handmade art, short films, musical performances and additional creative works.

Stronger Friendships

At a time in life when friends mean everything, social media offers a way to stay in touch, despite schedules and distance. "There is evidence to suggest that strong adolescent friendships can be enhanced by social media interaction, allowing young people to create stronger bonds with people they already know," the report states.

You Tube Effect

The report ranked Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube, based on 14 health and well-being-related factors for young people. Video sharing platform YouTube earned the top spot, gaining praise for its ability to promote awareness and understanding.

Instagram Effect

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the posed-and-filtered world of Instagram has the most detrimental effect on the mental health and well-being of young people. The Royal Society for Public Health recommends that digitally manipulated photos be indicated as such on social media.

Learn More About It

"Social media can and should be utilized as a tool for good–the challenge is to ensure social media companies are doing their utmost to make platforms a safe place to be, and for our young people to be equipped with the relevant skills to be able to navigate them and know where to seek help, should they need it." –Royal Society of Public Health #StatusofMind ReportNext Gallery