Updated: Nov 3, 2022
Tessa Stuckey, Licensed Professional Counselor
Here’s the thing, it’s everywhere. Social media is literally everywhere. Even I, someone who talks about the harms of social media and its effect on one’s mental health, am on social media and do a lot of that talking about the harms of social media ON social media! It’s everywhere.
Which is why it feels like it is unavoidable. Which is why our kids want it. Which is why the whole world is obsessed with checking their Facebook accounts, amount of likes, and making cute stories. It’s why marketers and college students are specializing in it. Social Media is a big part of our day-to-day lives. And I’ve gotta say, I hate it. Like really, really hate it.
You probably hate it too. Reading this now (which you probably found while scrolling through my stories or someone shared this post) you are sitting here saying, “yep, hate it too.” So, what are we doing?? And why the hell are we allowing our kids to be on it? Want to hear something interesting? Teens are hating it too…shh don’t tell them I told you!
Now, is this an attempt to get you to deactivate your Facebook account? No. I’m not going to any time soon and I don’t expect anyone else to. However, side note: my 30-something year old sister isn’t on any social media these days and is living her best life!— can anyone say JEALOUS?!
But do you know what I do want you to do? Not allow your kids to have it. That’s right. I said it. I don’t want kids, or teens for that matter, on social media. – it certainly would make my job as a therapist a lot easier, and I guarantee it would reshape your entire family and lifestyle for the better. Are they going to try and have it anyway? Absolutely. That's typical of a teen to establish individualism, control, autonomy and a hint of rebellion. But do you have to allow it and be okay with it? Especially at young, young ages like 11? No. It's exhausting, but it's for the sake of your child's well-being.
Remember all the problems you had as a teen? Insecurity. Heartache. Fear of being left out. Unsure where you fit in this world. Hating your parents but grateful they feed you and buy you things. Mixed emotions about friends. Stress from school. New responsibilities that seem too big to handle but you have to do it or you’ll fail a class or get grounded or even worse, people will find out you suck and HATE YOU FOREVER!!! Not you? Just my experience as a teen?
Kids today are going through all those same emotions. The needs and desires are the same, the circumstances in today’s world are much, much different. Do you know what social media does? Makes all those intense, negative emotions worse. Like 50 times worse!
Daily I sit with teens, and they share with me all of their insecurities and moments of emotional distress…and guess what all the intensity ends up coming back to? Social media. This damn world of likes and followers that is attached to their bodies at all times, is messing up their lives even MORE than it already feels just from being a typical, healthy, growing, hormonal adolescent. It’s too much.
“He left me on read!” “She didn’t text me back for 4 hours, I know she has her phone with her all the time!” “I only got 57 likes on my last picture so I deleted it, how embarrassing.” “The girl posted a pic of our whole class and put a big, red X on my face. I have no idea why but I can’t stop thinking about it.” “ I was up till 3 last night trying to stalk my ex on tiktok and figure out why he made that one tiktok that I think is totally about me.”
As adults, we didn’t grow up with social media…depending on how old you are. I got a MySpace account my first year of college and before that had email at 11 and AOL Instant Messenger starting at 13- which I became extremely obsessed (ahem addicted) with. With that said, we have to look at the different intentions behind having social media today.
For me, my family members, my friends, and most adults that I talk to, it’s all about connection. Staying connected with friends I went to college with that live across the country. Staying connected with potential career opportunities and networking. Staying connected with people to share my message of how much I hate social media with kids while on social media—sorry let me reword that—staying connected with parents across the nation who want to learn, stay up to date, and build strong family values parenting in today’s world.
For teens, it is NOT about connection. They may tell you it’s about connection, but trust me when I say, it is not. I suppose to a degree it is, but majority of their intention on social media is to, simply put, “stay cool.” Which means, human nature gives us that desire, they just want to fit in while also standing out and there are so many harms with this new “cool” way of being.
I can list off 11 reasons I don’t want my kids to have social media. I’m wondering how many you can list. I usually have my teen clients list off as many as they can and if they get somewhat close, I lightly consider the idea of them getting online. However, I always fall back on my gut feeling of, “Nope. You’re not ready. I can't allow this life-sucking factor of today's world to enter your life just yet.”
I know what you’re thinking.
“But if social media is part of life, aren’t we doing our kids a disservice by not letting them have it so they can learn how to be on it?”
Valid question…if we were talking about a life skill. But being on social media is not a life skill. It is not something necessary for living. (Just ask my sister) In fact, it’s something that a majority of people report “hating,” so we know for certain, it is not a needed part of life. And also, valid question if our kids were using social media the way most adults use it, but they just are not.
In the perfect world, you would hand your kid a phone and they would simply use it to connect with others to talk for hours, make plans, play snake, and send little love texts to their parents. —I think I’m describing life about 20 years ago! (Maybe without the love texts to parents? Was that too much?) But that is not the case. We are, in fact, approaching 2023 where handing your kid a phone is much bigger than just a few features or playing snake.
It comes with cyber-bullying, screen addiction, exposure to pornography, feeling left out even though you allowed them to get Snapchat so they would always feel included, unrealistic comparisons, drug deals, predators and grooming, sextortion, encouragement of nude picture exchanges, loss of sleep, isolation, dopamine overloads, no break from social life, exposure to dangerous behavior, heightened risk of anxiety and depression (due to no sleep, dopamine and all of the above,) victim fishing, digital footprints (posting something they may regret later down the line) and something I call Mental Illness Hypochondria. I’m out of breath. That was much more than 11.
So, is it worth it? Is it worth allowing our kids to have social media even though it comes with all of these negatives? Just so they can “stay cool?” Is it worth seeing their sweet, kind heart darken as they isolate to their bedroom, keep you out of the loop of their digital life and stay up all night with anxiety? This is all preventable.
Your child is going to be left out whether they have social media or not. Social media just makes that life lesson much more intense for their hearts and harder to get through.
I wrote a book that was inspired from my research working with teens struggling with suicidal ideation. Guess where all their suicidal ideations stemmed from? Social media and the need for clout in the digital world. Their digital identity becomes their main priority and then when they enter the real world, they’re lost, hurting, and already defeated.
If I had a magic wand, I would wave it over the earth and wish social media away. But my magic wand is currently out of commission, sorry. So I have to rely on you, parents. Parents of 15-year-olds. Parents of 9-year-olds.
I am asking all parents raising kids in today’s world to understand the harms that social media brings. Social media is not the answer to raising healthy, independent, emotionally strong individuals and you need to go ahead and stop allowing it.
I know that is what you want. I know as a hard-working parent you are doing the best you can with the information that you have. You want to raise strong kids who can take on this big life.
Parent to parent, therapist to parent, I am here to tell you that allowing social media, no matter how much you monitor or set up screen time restrictions, your child, no matter the age, will be or already is negatively effected by the side effects that come with all social media platforms. It is inevitable.
That is why I really, really hate social media.
Tessa Stuckey, mother of 4, Licensed Psychotherapist and author of the book
For the Sake of Our Youth: A Therapist's Perspective on Raising Your Family in Today's Culture