Social Media & the Mind

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Social media is well-known, but the effects of its long-term use are still relatively unknown. Many of us feel increasingly reliant on it, and its use—or trying to limit its use—can make us feel anxious, irritable, and even depressed.

What makes these platforms such a hard habit to break? And how can we recognize the signs of too much social media use and start to cut back?

Audience Questions

Jacqueline Sperling, PhD, explains the science behind what keeps us constantly coming back to social media outlets, shares how overuse impacts kids and teens differently than adults, and answers audience questions about how we can improve our digital habits.

  • Are there positives to using social media?
  • What makes social media use unhealthy?
  • What makes social media and other apps so habit-forming?
  • Is there a benefit to trying to keep kids away from these apps, especially if all their friends are using them?
  • How can we talk to our kids about their digital habits without coming off as being overbearing or bossy? Is this even possible?
  • What would you consider appropriate restrictions for adolescent use of social media sites such as Instagram and Snapchat?
  • How can caregivers make sure that kids and adolescents are using social media in safe and appropriate ways?
  • If my kid wants to sign up for a social media site or an app, what should I look out for to make sure that it’s safe for them to use?
  • It seems that one of the biggest faults with social media is that people post only good things and are rarely showing the reality behind their lives. Can it be healthy to be honest and vulnerable on social media or does this often end up being problematic?
  • What are some of the signs and symptoms that social media use is contributing to or causing mental health struggles?
  • Have you noticed an uptick in anxiety/depression associated with social media usage in teens?
  • It seems like young kids are spending a lot of time watching shows and playing games on screens. How much screen time is healthy for a younger child?
  • Can you provide clarity on types of screens are included for limits?
  • How can I talk to my loved ones about setting limits on their screen time?
  • I struggle between wanting to use an app that controls screen time for my teen but also want to build trust with them in hopes they will control their own time on their devices. Any suggestions? Do you suggest that parents limit screen time by using an app that controls usage?
  • I have been hesitant to allow my child to have a digital device of their own as I am very concerned around them having yet another distraction. However, most of their friends have one if not more than one device and my child feels left out. Any thoughts on how to manage this situation?
  • Can you touch on gender differences in terms of frequency of use as a predictor of the onset of anxiety and depression? For example, are girls/women more susceptible to depression and anxiety because of comparative behaviors due to what they see on social media?
  • How do we help break the mindless scroll habit as a form of “self-care” especially when occurring at the end of the day? I have patients that say it’s a helpful distraction, but then minutes turn into hours.
  • It’s becoming hard to tell what is true and what is not online. Any suggestions on how to teach teens how to think critically to identify conspiracy theories on social media?
  • Are you often seeing young people who meet the threshold for addiction when it comes to device use? What does digital addiction present like?
  • Do you have advice for teachers about addressing screen time for students during class?
  • I’m a provider and am seeing middle school kids, especially boys, can easily access adult content online. Some of them are admitting to spending too much time looking at adult content in the same way that many parents are telling me that their kids are spending far too much time on social media. Is this something you have come across and if so, how do you suggest caregivers address this?
  • Are you aware of any research being done on the long-term impacts of social media use?
  • Do you have advice on how to handle cyberbullying?
  • My teenage son and his girlfriend chat on FaceTime before bed and then proceed to leave it on all night long and then wake each other up in the morning because they are still connected to the same FaceTime session. I’ve asked around and he apparently is not the only young person doing this with a significant other or friend. Have you heard about this before? Any suggestions for us parents?
  • Are you aware of any apps that are beneficial for our mental health?
  • Do you have any suggestions for apps that are useful for setting time limitations?
  • Do you have any suggestions for apps that can set protective limits on app usage for kids?
  • How does addiction to social media differ from substance addiction? Do social media “detoxes” work?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


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About Dr. Sperling

Jacqueline Sperling, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in implementing evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and works with youth who present with anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Dr. Sperling helped develop and is currently a program director of the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, a program for children and adolescents with anxiety disorders and OCD.

Learn more about Dr. Sperling

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Originally aired on September 1, 2021