Mind Teen Health

Teen Health: Online Influence on Mental Health

The internet and social media have transformed how individuals, particularly teenagers, perceive themselves and engage with the world. Here’s Jane’s story! Jane, a senior in high school, migrated to the United States from Sudan, where her father is employed at a prominent tech company in Silicon Valley.

Jane wanted to be part of her school community, so she joined a Facebook group with her classmates and followed them on TikTok and Instagram. But things didn’t go as Jane hoped. She got teased about her accent. People made fun of how she smelled. They didn’t even seem to like the food Jane ate or the clothes she wore. The worst part was when they made hurtful comments about her dark skin.

The harassment wasn’t limited to her white classmates; even fellow Black students bullied her for “being different.” They would question, “God is unfair. This new girl in our class has good curves, but why is she so dark?” The situation worsened when she observed that images featuring white girls garnered more likes than those showcasing equally “sexy” Black girls.

Jane started believing that her dark skin was the reason for her suffering. Social media, with its pictures and culture, made her think this even more. Her struggles became so overwhelming that her father decided to seek professional help. They consulted with a white therapist, and the diagnosis was labelled as “relocation depression.” Yet, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to her struggles than what the diagnosis suggested.

Unhealthy Online and Social Media and Black Teens’ Mental Health

Similar to Jane’s story, the online realm doesn’t always mirror the positivity it portrays. Adolescents from many backgrounds and races have voiced grave concerns about popular social media sites like Facebook. Problematic social media use has been linked to mental distress, including loneliness and depression, according to a recent meta-analysis. In one study on body image issues, women (84%) were shown to be more likely than men (16%) to express unhappiness with their bodies as a result of social media. Not only that, but youth in this study who expressed body dissatisfaction also showed signs of anxiety and depression, accessed social media with greater frequency, and spent a significant amount of their leisure time alone.

For Black teens, navigating the digital landscape introduces unique challenges that significantly impact their mental health, including:

Stereotype Reinforcement

Black youth are particularly affected by negative stereotypes that are spread online by slanted media narratives. These representations frequently place Black people in constrained and unfavorable roles, which breed inadequacy complexes and distorted self-images. For Black youth, overcoming these prejudices becomes a constant fight that affects their self-esteem and mental health.

According to a Yale School of Medicine study, Black teenage girls who use dating apps like Twitter and Snapchat run into prejudice, racism, and links with negative Black stereotypes. Many Black teens feel that their hair type or skin tone is devalued because of mainstream narratives promoting white normative beauty standards.

Furthermore, the marketing of unrealistic beauty standards as “wellness” on the internet harms the mental health of youth. Black youths suffer additional difficulties because of the toxic and unrealistic body shape and image ideals that are widely disseminated by ignorant influencers on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

Recently, Facebook came under sharp criticism for purportedly neglecting evidence of Instagram’s (its affiliated platform) adverse effects on the body image perceptions and mental health of young girls. Unfortunately, these effects are exacerbated for young Black teens, especially females, who consistently face challenges associated with limited representation and acceptance in mainstream media.

Cyberbullying and Racial Harassment

Cyberbullying is a widespread problem in the digital era, disproportionately impacting Black teenagers at alarming rates. The psychological toll on Black youth is exacerbated because perpetrators may target individuals based on their race, thanks to the anonymity offered by internet platforms. In the context of cyberbullying, Black youths confront particular difficulties, such as racial assaults and microaggressions. Online environments have developed into havens for racism, where people encounter offensive remarks, racial epithets, and racist behavior.

According to a recent study, Black children and teens who encounter racism online may experience severe emotional distress, to the point where they may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study also discovered that they would consider harming themselves as a result of these strong negative emotions. In comparison to other racial groups, Black children and teens aged 10 to 17 saw the fastest growth in suicide rates between 2007 and 2020, rising by 144%, according to a report published in 2023 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Furthermore, the researchers think there may be a link between online racism and the likelihood of suicide.

Studies have revealed the pervasiveness of online racial discrimination against black people and its detrimental effects, especially in our youth. There is a lot of evidence, whether it takes the form of outright hate speech, racial memes, or messages. In research published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, black teenagers said they experienced racial prejudice about five times a day.

Parental Involvement and Support

The role of parents in navigating the online experiences of Black teens is crucial. Providing guidance, open communication, and establishing trust can create a supportive space where a teen feels comfortable discussing their online interactions.

  • Guide your Black teen online with open communication, trust, and clear boundaries
  • Educate them about online risks and promote self-esteem and resilience
  • Educate them about curated social media images and emphasize the platform’s idealized reality
  • Empower your teen to express their voice and connect with a supportive community while on social media. Teach them digital safety, responsible behavior, and reporting mechanisms to combat cyberbullying
  • Make your teen understand that success encompasses more than just social media analytics. Place a strong emphasis on realistic goals and individual growth. Teach your child about the harmful effects of excessive screen usage on mental health. Impose restrictions, encourage offline activities, and emphasize the need for self-care

Working together, parents, educators, and mental health experts can effectively address the complicated effects of online social sites on the mental health of black youth. Building a culture of open communication in the home that motivates teenagers to seek help and share their experiences online builds support and trust.

If you observe that your teen’s social media use is adversely impacting their mental well-being and is challenging to handle, seeking assistance from a licensed mental health professional is advisable. They are able to evaluate the circumstances, provide suggestions to lessen difficulties, and give guidance.

 Further Reading:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-race-to-good-health/202301/is-social-media-use
  3. https://www.nytimes.com
  4. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf
  5. https://jamanetwork.com/journals
  6. https://publichealth.jhu.edu
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science
  8. https://www.elevateblackhealth.com/cultivating-a-healthy-online-social-image/
  9. https://www.elevateblackhealth.com/teen-health-understanding-and-addressing-depression/

About the author

Geoffrey Andaria Shivayanga

Geoffrey Andaria Shivayanga, CEO of Andaria Virtual Solutions, excels in English language proficiency, meticulously crafting online content for resonance and effective conversion. With a background as an English and journalism teacher and degrees from Pwani University and the University of Nairobi, he demonstrates a commitment to language and communication. Holding diplomas and certificates in law, economics, mental health, psychiatry, real estate development, and graphics design, Geoffrey's multifaceted expertise contributes to his role as a web writer and researcher. Guided by a belief in transforming information into compelling narratives, he provides comprehensive insights across diverse topics, showcasing unwavering commitment to excellence.

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