The Quick Report

How Social Media is Driving Anxiety Among Teens

In This Article…

• Various statistics put the range of anxiety disorders in teens 13-18 between 25.1% and 31.9%.
• Roughly 90% of teens use social media for an average of 4.8 hours daily.
• Research suggests that social media use is associated with anxiety symptoms and psychologists are working to uncover why and how risks can be reduced.

Artistic depiction of teen anxiety

The Epidemic of Anxiety Among Teens

It’s no stretch to claim that anxiety is at an epidemic level among today’s teens.

Psychological studies have found that anxiety has increased substantially among children and college students since the 1950s, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). This increase was first noted in the 1980s.

Overall, rates of anxiety and depression among young people were far lower during some of the most troubled times in the United States than they are today. This includes the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the tumultuous times of the 1960s and early 1970s. 

Here is a sampling of anxiety statistics in teenagers from various sources:

  • 25.1% of teens aged 13 to 18 have anxiety disorders – Gitnux.
  • 31.9% of teens have an anxiety disorder, with 38% of female teens and 26.1% of male teens having an anxiety disorder – Evolve Treatment Centers

These numbers are concerning for several reasons. First, up to 80% of youth do not receive the mental health care they need to address anxiety disorders. Secondly, statistics show that 50% of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Early recognition, identification, evaluation, and treatment can eliminate or reduce further exacerbation of mental illness.

Teen Social Media Use

The use of the Internet by teenagers has doubled in the past decade, according to a Pew Research Center study.

About 90% of teens ages 13–17 use social media, with 51% visiting daily, and 75% have at least one active profile – American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).

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Teens self-reported that they spent an average of 4.8 hours per day on social media, with 13-year-olds averaging 4.1 hours and 17-year-olds averaging 5.8 hours – Gallup Poll 2023.

A 2023 Pew study found that 1 in 5 teens use YouTube and TikTok “almost constantly.” Over half of teens (71%) used YouTube daily, followed by TikTok (58%), and Snapchat (51%).

How Social Media Drives Anxiety Among Teens

Social engagement is critical during adolescence for development. Adolescents use these social experiences to form their identities, expand their own autonomy, and develop emotional maturity.

Digital media, and social media in particular, has transformed the traditional social landscape in many ways. Because of this, today’s teenagers have more social interaction online than any generation before them. Researchers are only beginning to study and decipher what effect this is having on today’s youth.

A research study showed that American teens aged 12-15 who use social media more than three hours daily had twice the risk of having negative mental health outcomes, including anxiety and depression symptoms, according to Yale Medicine.

How Digital Interactions Differ From In-Person Situations

Consider just a few ways that digital media differs from in-person interactions. First, its availability is nearly constant. Secondly, it allows us to interact asynchronously, meaning we don’t necessarily have to react in real time. Messages are sent and responded to intermittently with delays in between. Thirdly, there is the frequent absence or ambiguity of non-verbal social-emotional cues.

Studies have shown that increased screen time results in a 66% higher likelihood of anxiety disorders by teens who spend over 5 hours daily on electronics.

Social media also allows people to interact and behave in negative ways that they might not in person. It can also amplify situations. Up to 70% of teenagers report experiencing cyberbullying, either as a victim or a witness, according to ZipDo.

What Psychologists and Experts Recommend for Teens’ Social Media Use

According to statements from Officials and policymakers including the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy: “Using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people.”

The APA summarized the finding in a health advisory: “The effects of social media likely depend on what teens can do and see online, teens’ preexisting strengths or vulnerabilities, and the contexts in which they grow up.”

Psychologists say that due to difficulties with emotion regulation, some teens are at higher risk from the downsides of social media use, such as anxiety.

Recommendations for Parents

Here are several steps parents can take to their teenagers manage their social media lives more effectively.

  • Age-appropriate use of social media should be based on each adolescent’s level of maturity.
  • Put limits on when and where screen time is allowed. For example, “no screen time” at dinner, or after a certain time, or until homework is done.
  • Utilize apps that limit Internet access to age-appropriate sites.
  • Make sure location-enabled services are turned “off.” 
  • Instruct teens not to share critical personal information such as full names, addresses, telephone numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, etc. 
  • Ensure privacy settings are used to limit access to personal information.
  • Pay attention to how social media algorithms may be “puppeteering” what your teenager views and is exposed to.
  • Talk to your teen about “persuasive technologies” such as Notifications, autoplay, and infinite scrolling. These are designed to capture and hold attention. Discuss with your teen how these techniques might be keeping them “hooked” without their realizing it and monopolizing their time. Help them to understand how to make free choices apart from manipulation.