On these sites, teens control and create virtual social lives that aren’t always grounded in reality and can seem more perfect than true.
According to a poll by Ipsos, a marketing research company that specializes in media and technology, 75 percent of teens have a Facebook page.
The poll also found 27 percent of teens goes on Facebook multiple times a day.
“Contact with peers is an important element of adolescent life. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents,” according to a clinical report published in Pediatrics about the impact of social media on adolescents and families.
The report says when teens and others become depressed because of social media websites; it’s called Facebook depression.
Being on social networking sites can cause teens stress, said Dave Aughey, a pediatrician with Teenage Medical Services, a clinic in Minneapolis.
Being on sites like Facebook can cause “social stress,” Aughey said.
Facebook depression may sound new, but Aughey said it is just an extension of the depression teens often experience. Aughey estimates 1 out of 10 teens he sees have experienced or are experiencing a depression. Facebook was a cause or factor in 20 percent of those depressed teens.
Rawan Amin, 17, of Cairo, Egypt, has struggled with depression and thinks Facebook may have played a part. Amin connected with ThreeSixty through the Experience Project social network, www.experienceproject.com.
Facebook is a virtual world cut off from reality, Amin said in an email.
“Interaction with other people is not like your everyday interactions … Emotions are just words on Facebook,” she said.
Aughey said sites like Facebook can make it look like everyone’s life is so much better than yours because people tend not to post stuff about their imperfections.
“People tend to lie a lot on Facebook, bragging about their relationships, what they bought, what they have. Everybody does it, including me of course,” Amin said.
Even if Facebook can contribute to depression, teens also think it can be a really good thing for you.
Donald Hooker, 17, who goes to South High School in Minneapolis, said he thinks Facebook can be a beautiful thing.
“It’s very good if you use Facebook right and only friend friends you know on Facebook,” Hooker said.
But Hooker sees how there are ways to become depressed on social networking sites.
“Sometimes you feel lonely when nothing is going on, and you can feel bad when others talk negatively about your profile picture,” Hooker said.
Aughey said that part of this Facebook and depression deal is that teenagers are just going through a lot of developmental changes.
“[Teens are going through] changes at home and with parents, at school and with friends and peers,” he said. “These many changes can sometimes be confusing and overwhelming. [Teens] may be more vulnerable to these changes, and stresses.”
He said teens with low self-esteem who are easily hurt by put-downs at school are more prone to Facebook depression.
Aughey said if teens think they have untreated depression, they should get help. Untreated depression can increase the likelihood of continued or recurrent episodes of depression.
“The adolescent brain is ‘under construction’ and not fully hardwired until around age 25,” Aughey said. “A depression during the teenage years can permanently influence how the brain develops.”
Aughey said depression is so common that everyone will have it at some point in their lives or will know someone who has it. Depression can be solved and avoided.
Amin recovered by putting her feelings into words. “When I always felt this way, I depended on my words, writing what I feel in … a poem. It’s never ceased to do its trick,” she said.
Here are some tips Dr. Aughey, Amin, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, offer about how to avoid depression and not letting online comments get you down.
- Have good balance between your online life and life with family and friends. Get involved in things, offline.
- Talk about feelings, ask for help and communicate feelings that might seem scary.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests spending no more than two hours a day on the Internet or social media websites. And when you do, if you’re younger than 18, parents should “friend you” to keep an eye on the comments you are receiving so they can help you figure out when someone’s out of line, online.
- Do your favorite activity off the web.
- Tell yourself that negative comments will not affect you. You are strong; repeat this over again, when you sleep or when you read something hurtful. Then go do something that distracts you.
- Be safe online. You don’t have to befriend every teen, just friend people you know well.
- Ask your school to educate you and your peers on depression and suicides.
- If you or a friend has depression, make sure to get help now. Not telling can make depression worse. Talk to a therapist, counselor, psychologist, friend, parent, teacher, etc.