SOCIAL MEDIA AND SOCIAL ANXIETY IN TEENAGERS 

Social anxiety is the intense fear or phobia of social and performance situations and is considered to be a normal part of adolescence. The difference between having a social anxiety experience and having social anxiety disorder (SAD) is that SAD is a lasting emotional state that causes people to have an emotional or physical reaction that is disproportionate to their actual experience.  According to recent studies, social media platforms like Instagram have increased the number of cases of social anxiety disorders in teenagers and adolescents.  

How do you know if your teen is experiencing SAD? Some of the symptoms include a lack of desire to socialize, being withdrawn, feeling embarrassed or a deep fear of social scrutiny, and nervous habits like fidgeting and hair twirling. Most individuals with social anxiety disorder avoid eye contact, and reveal very little about themselves to their peers, they are often afraid to engage and initiate conversations. Teens suffering from SAD are often mistaken for being shy, which often results in a delayed diagnosis. This disorder can lead to other mental disorders including depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and even thoughts of suicide.   

SAD can stem from many causes including brain structure and living environment. The disorder can also be passed down genetically but recent studies have shown that social media has played a major part in increasing cases of SAD.  Sources indicate that 92% of American teens check social media regularly with 24% of them admitting to checking “constantly”. Most teens and tweens use social media more than 6 hours per day. These statistics are true among teens between the ages of 12-19 years old but according to research, 60% of children are already using social media by the age of 10 years old. Social media has had a negative social impact on many of its adolescent users and their self esteem, with a reported %46 percent of teen girls admitting that social media made them feel bad about themselves at some point due to the unrealistic standards it perpetuates. 

Teens on social media have become so pre-occupied with their online relationships that their “real” relationships and responsibilities are declining. The accessibility and the immediate ability to control/shift the world’s perception of us has lead many down a path to social media addiction.  Social Media addiction and social anxiety disorder are strongly correlated and recent studies indicate that social media addictions can cause social anxiety disorder.  Positive feedback in the form of likes or followers is a reward that stimulates the brain and rewards it with (highly addictive) dopamine.  Social anxiety related to social media addiction has serious consequences and has even lead to the disruption of sleep, inability to manage weight, and a loss of interest in work or school among adolescents.    

So what can be done to manage social anxiety disorder caused by social media addiction? Is there a cure? Rehabilitation and treatment centers for social media inflicted disorders are available in person or online.  Studies suggest that cognitive-behavioral therapy and taking a break from social media can help serve as a means of treatment for social anxiety disorders. There is also a support group called Internet Screen Addicts Anonymous , that offers a 12-step realization and recovery program.  Teen social media addiction treatment is an available resource that pairs teens with a therapist to help them reduce their use of social media. This program is designed to uncover triggers and underlying issues with self-confidence, feelings of being distracted, and the fear of being negatively judged in social settings. This sort of therapy is commonly overlapped with other treatments including substance abuse and mood disorders. One of the goals of this treatment is to help these teens make connections as they heal, uncover, and prevent further self-detriment.  The adolescent years are the most significant years in the foundation of human development, so it is important that SAD and social media addiction are not left untreated.