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Has Facebook Been Hurting Your Mental Health?

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People use Facebook for any number of reasons: keeping in touch with friends, organizing events, learning about current events, etc. But does Facebook actually make us happy? Or does it, as some researchers believe, promote feelings of loneliness and depression?

In 2013, a study out of the University of Michigan found a correlation between frequent Facebook use and lowered feelings of self-satisfaction and happiness. Much was written about it at the time in the media. The study suggested that the culprit is something called “social comparison.” Which is to say, Facebook users see all the interesting things their friends appear to be doing and compare their own lives to what they see in their newsfeeds leading to feelings of inadequacy. In this context, social comparison is exacerbated by the fact that people you know on Facebook are likely to have similar social networks as yourself.

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Since the study was published, I’ve had the opportunity to see how this is impacting parents and teens when they’re only seeing their friends at their best because, unsurprisingly, most people avoid posting things that look bad for them.

Therefore, it’s important to take a moment to revisit what the study is telling us. As Facebook participants ourselves, it’s important to be aware of so we don’t fall into this spiral, and it’s critically important for your teens, in particular, as they’re typically more consumed by social media than their parents. Not only do we need to realize that we might feel like we need to live up to the success of others we see through Facebook, there is something of a social obligation to maintain one’s appearance. As a writer for The New Yorker said, “We want to learn about other people and have others learn about us—but through that very learning process we may start to resent both others’ lives and the image of ourselves that we feel we need to continuously maintain.” Using Facebook as a continuous and central part of learning about others can very easily lead to this trap.

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However, some researchers have found some mental health benefits associated with Facebook. Particularly, active participation on Facebook was found to have a much more positive effect on Facebook users. Sharing content, for instance, immediately activates the reward center of the brain, as does receiving positive engagement from others about that content. Passively consuming content, on the other hand, has a very negative effect. If all you do on Facebook is look at other people’s pictures, videos, statuses, etc. you are more likely to engage in social comparison which, as discussed earlier, can very quickly lead to feelings of loneliness and lowered self-worth.

Using Facebook in a manner that’s healthy for you, should be a balance of active participation and passive consumption. Unfortunately, the average person spends much more time on Facebook passively consuming than actively engaging. This ultimately means that Facebook is more likely to make you unhappy than it is to make you feel good about yourself.

That said, it’s been my consistent point-of-view that children and young teens should graduate to using Facebook (or Instagram). Starting too soon – when your child is at an age when they are constantly comparing themselves to the other kids at school anyway – just makes things for them that much harder. And when you consider that Facebook is already a common medium for cyberbullying, this phenomenon of social comparison could easily compound feelings of loneliness and depression. If your child is already having trouble with kids in school, Facebook isn’t going to help them.

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If you allow your kids to use Facebook, talk to them about the importance of setting the phone down, or walking away from the computer. I encourage you to have a “no phones” policy at meals, during family conversations and after a certain time of night. If you know Facebook has been upsetting your child, consider asking them to take a break from it. Ask them if they’ve noticed how Facebook makes them feel. If they recognize that Facebook hasn’t been making them happy, they may be more receptive to the idea of taking a step back from it. Their mental health is more important than constantly checking notifications.

Social networks are more similar to other kinds of social environments than we often give them credit for. It’s important to know what kind of social and emotional atmosphere a social network promotes before letting your child use it. We at Yoursphere understand that mainstream, adult-intended social networks can have many aspects not suitable for children and young teens who are not mentally prepared, or mature enough, to handle the content and culture. Because of this acute understanding, Yoursphere is not about putting your life on display before your friends. It is not about judging your success against others. And, it is not about passively consuming content. We encourage an atmosphere of active engagement based on shared interests, talents, and aspirations. We work hard to ensure that Yoursphere is not a popularity contest no one agreed to be a part of.

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