Social Media and Adolescent Health

Maggie R. Guinta; Rita M. John


Pediatr Nurs. 2018;44(4):196-201. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


In recent years, social media use has grown exponentially in the adolescent population. Research indicates social media offers both advantages and detriments to the health of an adolescent. Risks of social media use in this population include cyberbullying, educational and mental health consequences, sexting, and privacy concerns. Nonetheless, healthy social media use can provide increased opportunities for collaboration, communication, self-esteem enhancement, health promotion, and access to vital health information. This article will review both the positive and negative consequences of social media use, and discuss the role of pediatric nurses in mitigating negative effects and mobilizing use for positive effects. Nurses are in a prime position to assist adolescents and their families to comprehend the complexities of social media use and promote healthy habits.


Ms. Smith brings her 14- year-old daughter Julie to the local clinic for her well-child visit. Ms. Smith explains that for the past three months, Julie does not engage with the family as much at home and spends her free time on her cell phone and computer. School no longer appears to be a priority, and Julie's grades are falling. Ms. Smith does not know what Julie is doing while on the Internet, but Julie denies any cyberbullying or chatting with people she does not know. She likes to use the Internet to share ideas and talk about her life. She does not think her phone use is a problem because all her friends use social media as often as she does.

As Julie's nurse, how would you counsel this family? In the last decade, the use of social media has grown exponentially, and research suggests both advantages and disadvantages from its use in adolescents (Reid Chassiakos, Radesky, Christakis, Moreno, & Cross, 2016). This article will review the positive and negative effects of social media use in adolescent populations to assist families in developing healthy usage and habits.

One of the most widespread behaviors of adolescents today is the use of social media. Social media is defined as an electronic form of communication that provides a space for social engagement and interaction where users can both consume and create content (Reid Chassiakos et al., 2016). Online activities of teenagers fall into five distinct groups: communication (texting, messaging), photograph documentation, video calls and chats, pinboards, and gaming (O'Keeffe, 2016). Although these communication modes may seem harmless, teens need to be aware people are on the other end of social media interaction, and privacy concerns and bullying can occur.

A 2015 study of over 2,000 teens ages 13 to 17 years suggests that 92% of teens report going online daily, with almost 25% reporting constant use of online resources (Lenhart, 2015). A 2018 Pew Research Center study showed that 78% of older adolescents between ages 18 to 24 use Snapchat, with 71% visiting Snapchat several times a day (Smith & Anderson, 2018). This study also reports Instagram is also used by 71% of older adolescents, and of those, 45% use Instagram several times a day (Smith & Anderson, 2018). Approximately three-quarters of teenagers own smartphones, contributing to the rising rates of social media use. Table 1 summarizes the most frequently used social media sites among teenagers in the United States. Parental use is contributing to the rise of social media, with 78% of adults ages 30 to 49 years using social media and 65% using Snapchat (Smith & Anderson, 2018). However, an important distinction is that a common goal of adult social media use is to stay current and connected with close friends, whereas teens do not limit their posts to friends (O'Keefe, 2016). The influence of social media on the adolescent population requires consideration from nurses to support healthy use while mitigating potential adverse health consequences (Reid Chassiakos et al., 2016).