In the last part of our series, Dr. Faizi helps parents understand how social media impacts our teen's mental health and shares some important resources for teens at Atrium Health and other community organizations geared towards teens. If you haven't read the first two parts of the series, go back and read our first post Teens and Mental Health and part 2, How Parents Can Help.
The Role of Social Media
As teens navigate this realm of self-searching, social media can certainly play a role. While there are benefits of social media in a teen’s life — communication, connectedness, social bonds — there is a slew of negative consequences that can follow if unregulated. Social media, when in check, can be a healthy way to engage with peers, engage in hobbies and personal interests and develop a platform to express oneself.
When unchecked, however, Dr. Faizi says social media can lead to negative views of self. “Social media rarely reflect reality,” he says, but a presentation of what users want others to see.
Subconsciously, we begin comparing ourselves to others, becoming more and more desperate to fit in and get likes, follows and messages. This can grow into full-blown resentment for our own lives. As parents, we must be sure to not engage in these habits of unhealthy thinking ourselves and to encourage our children to keep engaging in those mindfulness and gratitude practices and to even take self-imposed breaks from social media as a way of checking in with oneself.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP, recommends less than two hours per day of screen time, so keep that in mind when discussing this with your children.
Dr. Faizi warns that a more severe reaction to screen time and social media usage is an addiction. The instant gratification and validation received with a notification can become addicting and can lead to compulsive behaviors. It’s compulsive when we don’t consciously make a choice to check it and it’s more automatic, or when we have a hard time abstaining for even a few days. This can interfere with human-to-human interaction, health, goals, priorities, and mental well-being.
Because adolescence is such a formative time, teenagers are very likely to follow the examples set before them. As parents, we have the opportunity to set a good, healthy example of what screen time should look like. Set healthy boundaries, and make it a point to put our phones down during family time and meal time. Even sleep with phones out of our bedrooms so we are less inclined to check them compulsively upon waking.
Conversely, teens are likely to follow the examples of what they see their peers doing online. This can include simple things like the types of posts they make or apps they download and can take a riskier turn with tobacco, drug or alcohol use. Social media can normalize these behaviors, as well as sexual promiscuity, and teens are likely to feel an inclination to follow these leads. Though these behaviors are outside the norm, teenagers do not know this and are likely to engage in them.
These things are made easy because of the supposed anonymity of social media. This can also lead to bullying behaviors, something which teens find difficult to talk about as both perpetrators and victims. It causes the destruction of confidence and self-image and can lead to an increased risk of mental illness and self-harm. This rings true for children and adults and should be discussed and monitored. Talk openly and constructively with your children about their lives, including their online lives.
Our role as parents in this digital era is to protect our children. One way to download an app Dr. Faizi recommends called Accountable2You on all smart devices to help monitor activities. These will automatically alert parents when inappropriate content is read, typed or viewed. It gives parents the ability to let go of the need to pry and allows teens safety and accountability.
Pornography is rampant, addicting and progressively destructive. If you are aware of your teens searching out this material, you will have the opportunity to have a positive and shame-free discussion. Teens may not know how this industry degrades and uses people for monetary gain. Teens also do not understand how it changes the way we relate to others or the destruction that can come with such an addiction for both users and those involved in the industry.
Having these conversations and many others play an important role in navigating your changing teens’ lives and behaviors. Eat meals together, even breakfast before work and school. Implement spiritual practices as a family and engage in hobbies and activities of interest together.
One directed way to have these conversations weekly is to have what Dr. Faizi calls a FANO meeting:
- Discuss a Feeling they’ve been having (something aside from “fine” or “good”)
- Affirm another family member
- State a Need they may have (emotional or supportive, not material)
- Own (or take responsibility) for something they’ve done wrong or need help doing
Give teenagers a chance to open up and answer these questions honestly. It allows for openness, transparency, and vulnerability. There is power in admitting faults and our kids need to hear what we need as well. Everyone likes being valued and respected. Make time to let your kids know they are important. We lead by example.
Atrium Health has a variety of resources to assist families in implementing these ideas and caring for mental illness. Dr. Faizi says pediatricians, family physicians, and adolescent physicians are the first line of defense in the medical community and are ready to help navigate any concerns you may have.
In partnership with Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Hospital, Teen Health Connection is a practice that specializes in medical and mental health services for adolescents and young adults, ages 11 to 25. Their pediatricians, nurse practitioners, and mental health providers offer a wide range of services including adolescent and young adult medicine, reproductive healthcare, and medical management for depression and anxiety.
In addition, Teen Health Connection has licensed mental health clinicians that specialize in adolescent development and provide outpatient individual and family therapy to address issues such as anxiety and depression, grief and loss, trauma, family conflict and more. For additional information, visit TeenHealthConnection.org.
The Teen Lifestyle Changes program provides health and metabolic screening, nutritional guidance, and dietary management and education. Along with this, they offer psychological counseling, individualized exercise programs, and tools to help build confidence for healthy lifestyle changes. This program includes a team of experts — physicians, psychologists, nutritionists, and physical therapists — to help your family develop healthier lifestyles. Schedule a consultation at 704-355-9484.
There are also school-based and partial-hospitalization services available. Atrium Health has nine therapists who visit 19 schools on a regular basis to provide services through the school district. Check to see if this is an option within your child’s school.
If you are concerned about anything with your child’s health, trust your intuition and seek help by talking to your child’s doctor. Ask your children how they are feeling and show concern for them. Respect and validation of feelings go a long way. While religious leaders can be an excellent resource, they are no substitute for professional evaluation or treatment. Look for signs of unhealthy behaviors and coping skills, and take active steps to ensure the overall well-being of your teen.
Adam Faizi, DO is a pediatrician at Charlotte Pediatric Clinic – SouthPark. Originally from Charlotte, NC, he and his family recently moved from Texas, where he was a physician in the military. Dr. Faizi enjoys sports and spending time outdoors, and is most passionate about spending time with his family.
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Liz is a freelance writer and editor in Charlotte. When she's not busy finishing up her MFA at Queen's University, you can find her curating @restorationwaresvintage or toting around her 3 kids.