Young adults using social media on their phones.

How Does Social Media Negatively Impact Youth?

Whether it’s staying in touch with family or meeting new friends and communities, social media can have many positive impacts on our lives.

Yet, as experts dig deeper into the cause and effect of social media, they are realizing that it has negative effects as well, especially concerning those in the young adult community. Continue reading to learn about the negative impact of social media on youth and young adults.

Social Media’s Growing Impact on Our Lives

Companionship is an essential piece of life for every individual. Social media has given young adults an opportunity to communicate and relate to others in a quick and accessible way.

However, recent studies illustrating the negative effects of social media on the mental health of young adults are leading many people to question if this accessibility is causing more harm than good.

Over the years, social media has evolved and so has the popularity of certain platforms. From posting images on Instagram and Facebook to watching videos on TikTok and YouTube, young adults are viewing and absorbing information at rapid rates.

According to recent studies, the average young adult (age 16-24) spends 5 hours and 49 minutes on social media per day. Unfortunately, the information they are retaining isn’t always helpful or healthy.

This issue becomes even more detrimental when the impressionability of viewers in this age range is taken into account.

Every person’s brain will mature at a different rate, however, studies have shown that at the age of 18, an individual’s mind is still developing social and cognitive neural pathways.

This means that young adults who are spending countless hours on social media are being greatly influenced by what they see and read.

Signs of Unhealthy Social Media Use

There are a variety of reasons why young adults become consumed with social media. While some individuals rely on social media for acceptable uses, such as entertainment and connecting with friends, others use it as an unhealthy outlet or coping mechanism.

Often young adults become accustomed to using social media as a coping mechanism when faced with emotional discomfort.

For example, if a person is in a social situation where they don’t know many people or are experiencing social anxiety, their first instinct is to pull out their phone.

In other cases, young adults will use social media as a way to lessen the painful effects of underlying issues.

For example, individuals who struggle with depression and anxiety may go to social media to escape their life and try to dissociate from feelings of loneliness.

No matter what is driving unhealthy consumption, there are a few warning signs people can look for to determine if it’s a problem or becoming a problem.

  • Alienating themselves from family and friends.
  • Avoiding face-to-face social interactions.
  • Unhealthy sleep patterns or sleep deprivation.
  • Being distracted from school or work.
  • Comparing themselves unfavorably to others. 
  • Engaging in risky behaviors to gain likes or attention on social media platforms. 
  • Worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Increased self-absorption or self-centeredness. 

Young adults experience many challenges of social media, but oftentimes they don’t realize the issue until someone points it out to them. Once a person is aware of the signs, it becomes clear how great social media’s impact on our lives has become, and it’s easier to distinguish the good aspects from the bad.

Young adult walking to class while on her phone.

4 Negative Impacts of Social Media on Youth

The negative impact of social media on youth doesn’t only stem from what young viewers are seeing or reading, it also depends on how they react to the information.

When an individual scrolls through their social feed they are looking at multiple posts, but how are they allowing these posts to influence their mindset and lifestyle?

Below, we’ve listed some of the common challenges of social media young adults may experience on any platform.

1. Feelings of Inadequacy

One of the biggest challenges of social media is remembering that it does not always portray reality accurately. Many posts on social media have been filtered or manipulated to look better than they actually are.

People have a tendency to only post the highlights of their lives, leaving out the low points that aren’t as pretty or enticing.

For example, someone may post a picture when they go on a fun vacation. It’s unlikely that they’ll post about missing out on a trip because they couldn’t afford the expenses.

Oftentimes, individuals will find themselves comparing their lifestyle, appearance, or success to what they’re seeing on social media. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, and isolation.

2. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

The term FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a commonly-used phrase to describe feelings of exclusion when an individual is not included in a social setting.

Social media has expanded the reach of this phenomenon, with platforms allowing people to share posts, stories, and statuses in real time. Now, viewers who are not present can stay abreast of gatherings and celebrations happening in their absence.

When individuals are watching other people post about these seemingly ‘good times’, it doesn’t only fuel feelings of inadequacy, it makes them feel as though they are missing out on certain situations.

FOMO can hurt an individual’s self-esteem and even trigger anxiety. Evidence-based grounding techniques, such as meditation, aim to lower anxiety by keeping the individual focused on the present.

However, someone experiencing FOMO via social media may find themselves more invested in something online, checking their phone every few seconds for updates and alerts.

In this way, social media can introduce anxiety-inducing experiences rather than providing the anxiety-reducing benefits it can be thought to provide.

3. Cyberbullying

Another way social media destroys mental health is through cyberbullying. It’s a common misconception that cyberbullying is only relevant to younger children and teenagers.

However, this problem affects young adults and older generations as well. Unfortunately, the internet is a perfect place to publicize false and hurtful information without the risk of being reprimanded.

People can hide behind fake screen names or profiles to spread rumors, lies, and abuse, making it hard to hold them accountable for the harm they cause to others.

It’s been proven that the effects of cyberbullying can be long-lasting and result in serious emotional scars.

In some cases, individuals who experience being slandered online may develop mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Other times, cyberbullying can lead individuals to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.

4. Depression, Anxiety, & Isolation

Finally, one of the most detrimental effects of social media on youth is its impact on those struggling with depression, anxiety, and isolation.

Social media can be a great way to connect with people who are not close in proximity, but on-screen interactions aren’t enough to fuel a balanced life.

During the height of the pandemic, the CDC disclosed that college students reported having increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, stress, and loneliness.

Several recent surveys of students suggest their mental well-being has been devastated by the pandemic’s isolation and social and economic consequences, as well as the continued uncertainty about their college education and post-college careers.

Due to the health restrictions and social-distancing guidelines, many people were confined to their homes, separated from friends, family, and others.

Inevitably, this led to a high dependency on social media. People relied on their phones and apps to stay connected to the outside world.

When young adults rely on interactions online rather than face-to-face, they run the risk of developing mood disorders such as depression and/or anxiety.

Additionally, individuals who may already be struggling with a mental health disorder can be triggered by social media, making their situation worse.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that high usage of social media actually increased feelings of loneliness and isolation rather than decreased them.

Many mental health professionals recommend individuals reduce their social media usage to improve their overall mental and emotional well-being.

Young woman sitting in the dark scrolling through her phone.

How to Not Let Social Media Negatively Affect You

Living in a digital world means young adults will always have to face the challenges of social media. However, there are many practices that can help them prevent unhealthy social media use and dependency.

Delete social media apps. Individuals who feel that they are spending too much time on social media can limit their screen time by deleting the apps altogether. This practice doesn’t have to last forever, but taking a social media hiatus can do wonders for a person’s mental health and well-being.

Don’t scroll before bed. Sleep hygiene is important for everyone, but it can easily be interrupted by the temptation to stay on social media. Avoid falling into unhealthy sleep habits by not looking at social media at least an hour before bed.

Disable notifications and alerts. It’s hard for someone to ignore social media when their phone keeps lighting up with notifications from different apps. When someone turns their alerts off, it’s easier to keep social media at a distance.

Limit screentime. Many platforms are beginning to recognize the negative effects of spending an excessive amount of time on social media. As a result, some platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have added features that help limit a user’s screen time.

Doing this can ensure an individual they aren’t spending hours scrolling through feeds and profiles. In addition, Apple allows users to set time limits for one or several apps.

If an individual is aware of which apps they spend more time on, they can use this setting to keep them from overuse.

Take time to self-reflect. It’s important for young adults to remember that when their emotions are running high, it’s better to take a moment and think rather than post about it online. Adopting a self-care routine allows individuals to focus on their needs and process their emotions.

Social media isn’t all bad, but like most things in life, it should be used in moderation. Understanding the negative impacts of social media on youth can help young adults as they navigate their lives in the real world and online.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders, take our mental health self-assessment or contact us to see how we can help.