children,  mental health

From Likes To Life Hacks: A Mom’s Guide To Managing Social Anxiety & Fostering Positive Online Habits

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

Moms, let’s face it — our teens’ relationship with the online world can be complicated. While social media provides chances to connect and explore interests, it’s also a place where self-doubt can take root and worries can amplify.  

Social anxiety in teens is nothing new, but social media can intensify those feelings. If you’re worried about your teen’s mental health or how the online world impacts their well-being, know that you’re not alone. This guide is here to help you understand and support your teen through the ups and downs of social media.

Photo by Kindel Media:

Understanding Social Anxiety in Teens

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety is a common mental health disorder that affects about 15 million adults in the United States. The disorder often manifests during teenage years, when social acceptance and peer approval become crucial. Social anxiety in teens can make it difficult for them to navigate the complexities of everyday life, including online interactions.

As a mom, it’s important to understand that social anxiety is not just “being shy” or “going through a phase.” It’s a real disorder that can have a significant impact on your child’s life, including their daily activities, relationships, and overall well-being. 

Some common symptoms of social anxiety in teens include excessive worrying, fear of judgment and criticism, avoidance of social situations, and physical symptoms like sweating or shaking. While these symptoms can be overwhelming for both teens and parents, it’s important to remember that social anxiety is treatable, and your child can learn to manage it with the right support.

Social Media: A Magnifying Glass for Anxiety

Think of social media as a giant magnifying glass that can heighten already strong emotions in teens. Endless scrolling, constant comparison with “perfect” online lives, and the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out) all add to the stress. 

Even with teens trying to hide those feelings, a quick change in mood after their screen time might tell you something’s up. It’s not their fault — teen brains are still developing, making them extra sensitive to the rollercoaster of emotions that social media can create.

Spotting the Signs of Social Media Anxiety

It’s hard to know for sure if your teen’s social media experience is tilting toward unhealthy anxiety or if they’re just going through the natural ups and downs of adolescence. However, there are some red flags you can watch out for:

  • Mood shifts: Does your teen become moody, anxious, or sad after a social media session?
  • Sleep disruptions: Are they up late scrolling, losing sleep, or feeling exhausted even after a full night’s rest?
  • Constant comparisons: Do you hear them putting themselves down, focusing on how others online seem “better” in some way?
  • Losing interest: Have they become withdrawn, showing less enthusiasm for their friends or favorite activities?

Remember, you’re not a bad parent if you notice these signs in your teen. This is an incredibly common experience, and with your support, you can help them find a healthier balance.

The Power of Therapy

When anxiety in your teen feels bigger than the tips and conversations you can offer at home, it’s okay to seek professional help. A therapist provides a safe, judgment-free space where they can unpack those complicated feelings. 

Dealing with social anxiety in therapy can also help your child develop positive coping mechanisms and build self-confidence.  

Therapy can help teens:

  • Understand their anxiety: Therapists work with teens to pinpoint triggers and how anxiety shows up in their thoughts and behaviors, including how social media can add fuel to those feelings.
  • Build coping mechanisms: Therapists teach breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, and other healthy ways to manage anxiety when it pops up.
  • Challenge negative thinking: Negative self-talk is common with social anxiety. Therapists can help teens identify and reframe those unhelpful thoughts that make them feel like they’re not good enough.

The Road to Online Wellness

You usually can’t take away social media and expect the problem to disappear. There are positives to the online world, too. That’s why working together with your teen to develop better digital habits is so important. Here’s where to start:

  • Open conversations: Don’t just lecture about being online less. Start with asking open-ended questions about their experience on social media and really listen to how they feel. A little empathy and understanding can go a long way.
  • Time boundaries: Discuss healthy time limits for screens and create regular “tech-free” zones, like during meals or while spending time as a family. Apps that track screen time can help make those limits real.
  • Rethink those follow lists: Remind your teen that most of what people post online is a polished, idealized version of life. Support them in unfollowing accounts that make them feel bad, and help them fill their timelines with inspiring and positive content.
  • The joy of “IRL”: Help your teen explore ways to bring joy and connections to their “in-real-life” experiences. Nurture their interests, whether it’s signing up for clubs, exploring hobbies, or volunteering with friends.

Online cruelty is another big worry for any parent. Remind your teen that cyberbullying is never acceptable, and help them understand safe online habits like protecting their privacy and respecting others. Most importantly, make sure they know they can always confide in you if anything negative or upsetting happens online.

Whether it’s social anxiety or everyday stress, remember to approach these conversations and solutions with empathy and support. Together, we can help our teens navigate the complex world of social media and prioritize their mental health and well-being.

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