Social media is harmful to teens

A dangerous trend has developed from teens having relationships on smart phones and social networks. Technology has interrupted an important adolescent phase. Adolescence is the time kids get to figure out how to have intimate relationships. Let me explain how the natural process of asking someone out, breaking up with them, picking them up at home, meeting parents, has all changed because of social media.

 “An integral milestone for development is this testing period between the ages of 13-19, when kids learn how to ‘be intimate,’” says Darby. “Putting this process in the hands of technology hijacks one of life's most basic learning periods. Technology seems like a shortcut to dealing with relationships, but it actually removes human vulnerability.”  

 Relationships through social media are characterized by superficial connections:

  • People texting – or sexting – without emotional connection maintain a false sense of closeness.
  • People say things that they would not say to a person’s face, including insults and compliments.
  • Digital connections offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.
  • We are allowed to hide from each other while thinking we are tethered to each other.
  • Technology makes it easy to communicate when we wish and disengage at will. “This is actually very lonely,” says Darby. 

As a result of technology, whole relationships can be formed without ever meeting each other. If there is limited personal contact, teens do not have the experience to judge what is happening. Emotions rely on physical, verbal and optical cues. Without these, our complex neurological chemistry cannot develop.

 Social networks such as Facebook allow kids to completely fabricate their social life. A great deal of time is put into creating what teens think their lives should be.  Be warned that social media will ultimately create an entire generation not able to communicate or interact in-person.

 Teens who are very sensitive and self-aware are always comparing themselves to their peers. Social media forces teens to compete on a larger level. Rates of depression, divorce and alcoholism will surely rise. These are all effects we know occur when people are feeling inadequate and lonely.

I emphasize that our culture of "alone together" will have far reaching effects if we do not begin to demand and model real person-to-person connections, especially through the teenage years. 

Darby Fox, Child & Adolescent Family Therapist, has over 20 years of experience providing individual and group therapy in both non-profit and private settings. Darby takes a unique approach to counseling and looks beyond the presenting problem to make a real connection with the children and families. Through a variety of techniques, Darby helps children and families express what is troubling them when they haven’t mastered the language or awareness to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. She incorporates the family as a whole into the therapy to establish a framework to teach on-going problem solving skills and provides a corrective emotional experience that is necessary for healing.

Darby Fox earned her Master’s degree from Columbia University where she graduated summa cum laude after receiving a BA from Middlebury College. Since Columbia she's pursued extensive post master's specialized training from Columbia University, Yale Child Study Center, NYU Silver School of Social Work, Mel Levine's All Kind's Of Minds Institute, Harvard Medical School and The Ackerman Institute for the Family. She currently divides her time between pro-bono work for Horizon's, a non-profit agency working with at-risk kids, and private practice.