8 Dangers of Social Media for Teens

By Dr. Panchajanya Paul, MD

Recently I spoke about stress management for teens in a seminar organized by the Atlanta Badminton Club. One of the problems that came up was the increasing use of the phone, tablets, laptop, and screens by adolescents and teens. One high schooler said that she relies on social media to connect with her friends. She and her friends share everything ranging from studies, relationships, thoughts, challenges, and life in general. All her friends stay up till late hours as they chat with one other. Is this Okay for health? Here I will discuss the dangers of social media, that I have seen in my clinical practice.

1. Fragmented Attention: Human brain can do only one thing at a time. Our mind is incapable of multitasking. Sometimes we are forced to do multitasking, but when we two things at the same time, the quality of both works deteriorates, we cut corners, and eventually spend more time in accomplishing both. The brain power can be visualized like an internet broadband, if too many downloads/uploads occur simultaneously- all will slow down. The overuse of screen time has also heralded a rise of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among children, teenagers, and adult all around. Checking social media even if for a few seconds beak the focused attention required for learning and mastering complex tasks.

2. Isolation & Social Anxiety: studies have shown that the more time spent on social media leads to loneliness and social anxiety. Humans are meant to interact face to face. A lot is going on during a human face to face interaction. Verbal words constitute only 10 to 20 percent of the communication, and then there is the tone voice, body language- all of which plays a part. When we text each other, the conversation remains superficial and incomplete. I see many teens struggling to make new friends in college and becoming anxious and depressed. Sometimes, as they are in constant touch with their old school friends over social media, they do not have the mental energy for any newer relationships.

3. Depression and Low Self-esteem: Social media are an artificial platform where people showcase a hyper-edited, glamorous, confident version of themselves to garner maximum likes and responses. For those already popular and successful in real world, social media is a useful tool to increase their influence. But for the majority, being forced to compare constantly against the perfect orchestrated image of others can be draining. Many depressed patients have told me "... something is wrong with me; I see all my friends so happy and prosperous in social media. I feel a loser".

4. Lower Productivity: Using social media regularly makes one slow and inefficient both at work and at school. In addition to fragmenting attention, one loses time from the back and forth texts, comments- when a direct conversation will be more meaning full. Using social media parallelly while doing homework will increase the amount of time to finish the school work. Even if the work is done within the same time, the quality will be lower. I hear the argument that students need to discuss while doing their homework. But it remains a slippery slope with a lot of time wasted on idle gossip.

5. Sleep Deprivation: Sleep is crucial for mental and physical health. Teens staying late at night on social media are harming themselves. The blue light from the devices inhibits the melatonin secretion and causes a delay in sleep onset. One common symptom I treat in teenagers is sleep issues. Schools for most begin early, and many students have to get up at 6 am to get ready from school. If they are sleeping late after midnight, getting up at 6, it leaves only 5-6 hours for sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause cancer, infection, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, depression, and anxiety. Also, the body heals during sleep, and poor sleep can make all pre-existing mental and physical ailments worse.

6. Internet Addiction: The social media platforms like Google, Facebook Instagram, snapchat, and others are designed by the best social engineers using all the state of art artificial intelligence. They use the same principles of increasing addictive behavior as used by casinos for increasing gambling. All these are done to increase the time people spend on that platform. Users are consumers, and more time they stay on the page, more advertisements are sold. The constant stimulation from the likes, views, and comments boosts the dopamine in the brain similar to how alcohol, cocaine, and heroin pleasures an addict. The addiction to social media can even be worse because one has unlimited access, unlike other habits where you have to physically procure the drugs from a dealer and pay every time. I have treated teenagers in the hospital who became suicidal and violent after their parents grounded them and took away their phone privileges.

7. Deep Learning: Teenage brains are still developing. The complete maturation of the brains occurs around the age of 25. Constant and repetitive exposure to multiple people through the social media overwhelms the brain and may disrupt brain networks negatively. Teenagers, unlike adults, are learning new materials and concepts daily. Learning new things is much easier for a young brain than the old brain. The increased use of social media can impair learning in school, and also may reduce learning and the potential for deep thinking. The economy is hit by the loss of low skilled jobs to workers in developing countries and the robots. The trend will increase further in the future with all high paying jobs requiring deep thinking, analysis, creativity, and sustained attention.

8. Cyber Bullying: Human being arranges themselves in social hierarchies. It is prominent among children and teens. Cyberbullying is becoming more prevalent with the increased use of social media. Unlike traditional bullying which happens face to face, there is no start and stop time for cyberbullying. It is every moment and every time. In addition, teenagers also share sensitive information, and compromising pictures in social media which becomes a permanent record on the world wide web. Each year many teenagers are committing suicide or violence to break free from the toxic cycle of cyberbullying and blackmail.

In the end, social media is an essential tool for the digital economy. Humanitarian causes like the fight against injustice, racism, and abuse rely on social media to reach the masses. Also, shy and introverts can use social media to connect with others. The anonymity of social media also protects people from expressing dissent against those in power. And, if all your friends are on social media, withdrawing from the media is difficult. I recommend my patients to set aside a specific time to surf the web. Surf the internet on a schedule like one goes to check their physical mailbox. For school going students, it can be fifteen minutes once in the morning, once after school, and once after dinner. By following a schedule, one can stay connected, yet have enough time to finish homework and other chores.

I also advise parents to turn off the internet at night after 9 PM. I uninstalled Facebook, and Gmail from my smartphone. Any time, I have to check my email or Facebook, I have to physically log in into a computer and type my full password. Similarly, you can create barriers to the use of social media to reduce its consumption. For those who are addicted to social media or internet to the detriment of their work, studies, and health, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. In summary, social media is a powerful medium of communication and entertainment with a heightened risk for abuse and addiction. For those interested to learn more about this topic, please also read the book 'Deep Work' by Cal Newport.


Dr. Panchajanya 'Panch' Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, FAPA - is an American Board certified - Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He holds an adjunct faculty position at Emory University School of Medicine; University of Georgia, and University of Central Florida School of Medicine. Call 7704541252 or email georgiapsychiatry@gmail.com to schedule an appointment with Dr.Paul at Georgia Behavioral Health Professionals. He is also the author of 2 books- Stress Rescue and Sleep Coaching available at Amazon.