Social Media and Lonely Teens

More than 90% of teens use social media daily. Eighty-one percent of these teens use social media to connect with friends, and one-fifth of teen social media users spend four or more hours on it each day [Pew Research Center study]. These stats do not include the amount of time that teens spend on video games, texting, and other digital technology.

Studies have also found that today’s teens have higher scores of loneliness than retirees and that this may be generational. Today’s kids and teens may be more likely to feel lonely than when their parents were their age [Cigna’s 2018 U.S. Loneliness Index].

While social media alone can’t predict loneliness, the behavior that goes with it can. Lack of in-person interaction and the over usage of social media, video games, and other digital technology can make kids feel disconnected and isolated, which can cause feelings of loneliness.

Social media and digital technology aren’t bad, but they can be dangerous if not used correctly.

Here are some ways to help bridge the gap between parents and their teens’ use of social media and other digital technology.

  1. Let your teen know that ‘connections’ aren’t the same as ‘relationships.’

Numbers and engagement are the measurements of popularity on social media.  How many likes and followers a teen has can make them feel worthy or worthless. A teen will often compare their cyber status to their peers. If their friends have more connections or positive engagement, they are deemed more popular and well-liked. The truth is, these numbers are often a fallacy that represents superficial friendships. A teen with 500 Instagram followers can end up feeling lonelier than a teen with 50 Instagram followers because they’ve spent their time building connections versus relationships.


  1. Create rules and boundaries.

I recommend that all parents talk to their teens about social media and establish clear boundaries on what is allowed and what is not. Parents should let their teens know which apps are unacceptable to download, define what types of social posts are inappropriate, and be clear on when phone usage is not permitted. I advise parents to require their teens to keep their phones out of their room after a specific time each night. Using social media and other digital technology late at night can cause sleeplessness, as well as trigger anxiety and depression.

A social media contract can be a great way of spelling out social media rules and boundaries.

There are also parental controls available, like eero Secure, which can connect to a teen’s phone and other devices to help monitor and prohibit inappropriate usage.


  1. Talk about cyberbullying and safety.

It’s essential to understand that there’s no way to fully control who doesn’t see a published post or private message.  Although Instagram stories, Snapchat, and other social networks allow users to share moments that only display for 24 hours, the posts and photos that are shared can reach more people and display beyond the time intended through screenshots and sharing. Pictures and posts that get used against someone may become a form of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is common among teens and can affect a teen’s self-esteem.  It can be difficult for parents to spot since posts and comments are made in teen circles and in social networks that are often unseen by adults. It’s important to let teens know that they should speak up if they witness cyberbullying, or if they become a victim themselves.

If your teen becomes a victim of cyberbullying, you should explore what’s going on by asking open-ended questions such as “how often are you experiencing these mean comments online?” Like other kinds of bullying, the perpetrators of cyberbullying are more likely to continue if they’re getting a reaction. Teens who get cyberbullied should send the bully a short message to ask them to stop and then block the bully from their social network. You can also report cyberbullying to many of the social networks: Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook.


  1. Model the behavior you want to see.

Parents have a significant influence on what teens think is appropriate. If you text or post photos to Instagram at the dinner table, your teen is likely to do the same.


  1. Practice the Three E’s

The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement) is a framework that I often use in my therapy practice, and that can help parents form a stronger connection with their teen. Parents should ask their teens’ open-ended questions and time to listen empathetically. Parents should empower their teens to share their opinions and encourage open communication by providing ongoing engagement and regular check-ins.

Click here to learn more about connecting with your teen with the Three E’s.


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About the Author:

Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who helps adolescents, adults, couples, and families who are in pain due to issues such as anxiety, severe stress, low self-esteem, or depression. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and, Danielle has appeared on Fox, ABC, and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio, and is the expert contributor to Washington Post’s article: “Kids love to ‘roast’ each other. But when does good-natured teasing become bullying?