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Why Is Your Kid So Obsessed With Social Media?

Social media has become a big part of a teen’s life. But do you know why your kid keeps turning to Snapchat, Instagram, and all the other popular social media apps? We’ve taken a closer look at why young people are so hooked on these platforms - and what you can (or shouldn’t) do as a parent.

Stefanie Parth
2/2/2023 • 5 min
Close up of several teenagers looking at their phones, social media reactions like the thumbs up or heart are placed over the phone, suggesting that the teens are on social media

Why Is Social Media So Popular With Teens?

Are you wondering what your kid is doing on social media? Your teen is most likely talking to their friends. According to a study by Pew Research, 81% of teens ages 13 to 17 say they use social media to stay in touch with their friends and keep up with their lives.

Social media also provides a platform for teens to express themselves and be creative. Teenagers are in a developmental stage where they are figuring out who they are. Social media is the perfect playground for them to explore their identity.

Some other reasons your teen might be on social media so much:

  • Join group conversations
  • Learn about current events and health-related topics
  • Meet new people
  • Keeping up with the latest online trends
  • Don’t get bored

What Makes Social Media So Attractive?

1. It’s what teens use to connect.

Because teens use social media to keep in touch with their friends, social media platforms are a way for them to feel included and stay on top of the latest trends. If they are not on social media, they have a fear of missing out (known as FOMO) and feel left out and disconnected from their peers.

2. Likes are rewarding.

Everyone likes to be liked by others. Especially for teens, it’s important what others think of them. So when they post a selfie or their thoughts and that post gets a lot of likes from their peers, it activates a specific brain region called the nucleus accumbens. This region lights up when a person experiences pleasant things and then releases a hormone called dopamine. Dopamine makes you happy, so of course you’ll keep posting because you always want to feel good.

Fun fact: This brain region shrinks after adolescence, so nothing - listening to your favorite song, spending time with your friends, having sex - will ever feel as good as it did when you were a teen. (This is not really a fun fact for adults, is it?)

3. Likes are a sign of popularity.

When a teen posts something that gets many likes, it’s not only rewarding, but for most teens it’s also a sign of their popularity and how their friends perceive them. This can become quite stressful for young people, and it’s not uncommon for teens to delete posts that get few likes.

4. It’s a way to escape the real world.

If your teen is going through a rough patch or stressed about school, social media is a welcome distraction from reality. Social media offers a sense of anonymity, so your teen may feel less inhibited about talking about their problems online.

5. Social media is entertaining.

Companies like Meta and TikTok have perfected their algorithms to figure out exactly what their users are interested in. Your teen is into video games? They’ll see content about video games. This keeps engagement very high and makes it tempting to keep coming back for more, especially when you’re bored.

When Should You Step In?

Keep in mind that social media has replaced the long phone conversations you used to have with your friends when you were your teen’s age. So if your kid is on social media, there’s a good chance they’re only talking to their peers. But be sure to educate them about taboos such as sharing personal information, nude photos, etc.

We don’t have to tell you this, but teens don’t like their parents telling them what to do. As they explore their identities, they want to test boundaries, figure things out for themselves, and make their own decisions and mistakes. Teens are also learning to be self-reflective. So try to make them aware of how they choose to spend their time without telling them how to spend their time. How?

Suggest that the two of you give up social media for a week and agree on a reward. If you don’t use social media, choose another habit to cut back on. At the end of the week, reflect on your experiences and observations. How difficult was it? How did you spend your time? Will you try to spend less time on social media? You may be surprised to find that your teen is happy to catch a break from social media.

Two male teenagers are playing basketball

A break from social media can help your teen discover new "offline" hobbies. (Source: Shutterstock)

In fact, social media can be stressful for some teens. Although people have started to share painful or negative life experiences on these platforms, most of the content still conveys this idea of “everything in my life is perfect, look how beautiful I am”. The use of filters and photo editing is very common - imagine what these unrealistic ideas can do to a young person trying to figure out who they are. You can’t help but compare yourself to others on social media, and that’s true for adults as well.

So what's the bottom line? Listen to your parental instincts. Is your kid not acting like themselves? Are they hiding in their room all day? Do they seem to be sad? If your alarm bells are ringing and you believe that social media is the cause, it’s time to step in:

  • Talk to your teen about your concerns.
  • Find out what they are struggling with.
  • Address their struggles (for example, if they feel like they are “not enough,” reassure them that they are beautiful in their own way).
  • Explain why it’s necessary to take action.
  • Introduce a stricter screen time schedule so your kid can get some distance from social media.

Research article “The Power of the Like in Adolescence“