The Impact of Social Networking Sites on Adolescents’ Mental Health

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Although several studies have confirmed that social networking sites have positive outcomes for individuals such as forming new relationships, connecting and bonding and maintaining friendships in other cities, the uncontrollable use and overuse of social networking sites could become an addiction. Internet addiction has become a severe problem and was listed as a mental disorder in the 2016 version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


What is a Social Networking Site?

Social networking sites and social media are web-based platforms that give individuals access to connect with other users and maintain social connections. Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are a few social networking sites that are mainly used to promote entertainment, maintain relationships and occupy time. The intensive usage of social networking sites can result in undesirable outcomes in professional, personal, and family life. 


Identifying the Causes of Elevated Social Media Usage Time

Young people often use social networking platforms excessively and with a lack of control instead of consciously. It therefore creates an addiction which severely impacts the everyday life of mainly young people. The causes of elevated social media usage time can be multifaceted and may include factors such as:


  • Behavioural Triggers: Certain actions and features on social media platforms can prompt prolonged usage by influencing user behaviour or thinking.
  • Mood Impact: The effect that social media, particularly platforms like Facebook, has on users' moods can contribute to extended usage.
  • Lack of Control: Young individuals, in particular, may use social networking platforms excessively and without conscious control, leading to addictive behaviour.
  • Addiction Formation: Excessive and uncontrolled use of social media can create addiction, significantly impacting the daily lives of primarily young users.


The Release of Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure amongst others. Notifications, comments and ‘likes’ stimulate the central nervous system to increase dopamine levels. This causes positive feelings of acceptance and self-assurance. 

When social media activity is decreased, the user does not experience the usual dopamine release and as a result, experiences withdrawal symptoms of fear, anxiety and loneliness. Withdrawal is the unpleasant feelings a person experiences if they decrease social media activity suddenly These withdrawal symptoms could ultimately lead to depression.


Powerful Algorithms

These algorithms are effectively used to ensure that users stay online for as long as possible. The algorithms are developed to provide users with more of the same content. The more users engage in negative content; the more negative emotions they experience. The behaviour and way of thinking of users are then controlled by these algorithms. Included in these behavioural characteristics is tolerance, which is when a user makes use of social networking sites more frequently to reach the same effects as previously experienced. Users then develop ignorance about their personal lives and an interest in using social networks more frequently.



Relapse is the likelihood of returning to a known habit of the activity or worsening of a person’s condition after a temporary improvement. Addicts of social networking sites including Facebook, do not take advice from others to reduce the amount of time they spend on social networks. When these addicts attempt to reduce the amount of time they spend on social networks, these attempts are often unsuccessful. 


Social Networking and Its Influence on Mental Health

Social networking site use has detrimental effects on mental health including depression. Depression can be classified as a major depressive disorder or clinical depression and is a serious mood disorder that affects daily activities such as how you feel, think, sleep, eat or work. According to The World Health Organization, more than 280 million people are affected by depression globally.


The Connection Between Facebook and Depression

Time spent on the well-known social network, Facebook is positively linked to the level of major depression. There is a positive relation between excessive Facebook use and late bedtimes as well as rising times. Therefore, it might negatively influence an individual’s circadian rhythm and contribute to insomnia which later leads to depression. A recent report found that users spend up to 8 hours a day on Facebook and that up to 80% of the daily users are students. 


What is Depression?

Depression differs from usual mood swings and brief emotional outbursts to having an inability to complete daily tasks. It can become a significant health condition when it is long-lasting, and the intensity is severe. This mental condition negatively impacts the way a person functions at school, work or in a family setting. In the most serious cases, depression can lead to suicide.


Can Can I Help My Teenager Break Their Social Media Addiction?

Breaking a social media addiction for teenagers requires a combination of parental guidance, self-discipline, and the establishment of healthy habits. Here are some tips tailored for teenagers:


Open Communication

Foster open communication with your teenager. Discuss the impact of excessive social media use on their well-being, academic performance, and relationships. Encourage them to share their feelings and concerns.


Lead by Example

Demonstrate healthy social media habits by modelling responsible usage. Teenagers often mimic their parent's behaviour, so showcasing a balanced approach can positively influence their own habits.


Educate on Impact

Help teenagers understand the potential negative effects of excessive social media use on mental health, sleep, and overall well-being. Provide information on the importance of balance and moderation.


Designate Tech-Free Times

Introduce tech-free times or zones in the house, such as during family meals or before bedtime. Create an environment that encourages face-to-face communication and other activities.


Encourage Hobbies and Activities

Support and encourage your teenager's involvement in offline activities and hobbies. Whether it's sports, arts, or other interests, having alternative activities helps reduce dependence on social media.


Promote Offline Socialising

Encourage teenagers to engage in offline social activities with friends. Facilitate opportunities for them to spend time together in person, fostering real-world connections.


Digital Detox Challenges

Introduce occasional digital detox challenges as a family. This could involve a weekend without social media or a specific number of hours without screen time, creating awareness about their reliance on digital devices.

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