Donna Hallas, PhD, PPCNP-BC, CPNP, PMHS, FAANP, FAAN, recaps her thoughts on the latest issue of Contemporary Pediatrics.
Today, a major focus for every primary care health care visit for teenagers is on the current state of their individual mental health. Currently, the mental health of teenagers is viewed as fragile; influenced by the adversities of the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions in previously anticipated progressive educational activities, loss of normal patterns for socialization, personal and family losses, and now transitions to an evolving “new normal” for teenagers. One major influence on teenage mental health are the social media platforms they interact with every day. In the article, “Talking to teenagers about social media,” Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, provides valuable insights for providers to speak with teenagers about their use of the social media platform, TikTok. Swanson discusses short videos on TikTok that have caused bodily harm and may be fatal, such as ingesting overdoses of over-the-counter medications to experience a “high.” Teenagers may think; I can buy this medication at a drug store, so it must be safe. I recommend reading Dr. Swanson’s article to become knowledgeable about TikTok and ways to talk with teens about ways they use social media.
In 2022, the researchers from the Pew Research Centerreported the results of a survey of 1,316 teens ranging in age from 13- to 17-years-old on their use of social media.1 Ninety-five percent of the teens reported using YouTube with 19% of the teens reporting almost constantly using the YouTube platform every day. More than 50% of the teens used TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Online Gaming is also an activity that has gained popularity with teenagers.1 Ninety-seven percent of the teens in this study reported using the internet daily, with 46% saying they use the internet almost constantly.1
Providers must ask themselves two questions: How much do I know about social media; and how can I positively influence teenagers to practice safe behaviors on the available social media platforms? Have you as a health care provider for teenagers reviewed the various platforms that research evidence shows are widely used by teenagers? How familiar are you with: YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Twitch, Reddit, and online gaming?1 Which of these platforms are the teenagers in your practice using? How much do parents of teenagers in your practice know about these apps? Do they monitor their teens activities on their phone or computer? Have you asked teenagers and/or the parents? Lots of questions for which we, as providers, may have very few answers.
To effectively have an intelligent conversation with a teenager about the influences of social media on their lives, we must first educate ourselves about each of the platforms that the teens are using. What does the platform do? For example, is Snapchat similar to Instagram or it is an entirely different platform? What attracts a teenager to TikTok, Instagram, or another one of the platforms? Which platforms allow the user to participate without sharing their real name or identity? Are the teenagers in your practice using their real names? Are children under 13-years old using these platforms?
I have presented many more questions than answers. Personally, I feel a critical need to learn as much about each platform teens are using, to ask thoughtful questions of the teen concerning the way the platforms are used, to question if the teen ever felt unsafe using any platforms and what action was taken, and to ask if their identity and personal information is revealed to strangers. Another strategy is to have one of the office personnel be a social media champion who can be the go-to person and talk with teens about social media use, identify any concerns, and report that information to the provider for further discussion with the teenager.
1. Vogels EA, Gelles-Watnick R, Massarat N. Teens, social media, and technology 2002. Pew Research Center. 2022. Accessed July 20, 2023. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2022/08/10/teens-social-media-and-technology-2022/