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Teens, Screens, and the Happy Medium

The positive impact of taking a social media break on adolescent mental health.

Key points

  • It is important to assess and monitor the impact of social media use on day-to-day quality of life.
  • If social media use increases feelings of anxiety or depression, it may be time to reduce or pause use.
  • Scheduled breaks can improve mood, increase productivity and creativity, and elevate self-esteem.

In our post-pandemic world, where opportunities for teenagers to have face-to-face socialization, extracurricular activities, and travel are slowly being reestablished, social media can serve as an important tool to stay connected with loved ones and maintain social support. It allows them to stay in touch with friends who may have moved away and create new relationships within online groups and communities. Social media can also be a creative outlet, and a tool for self-expression, including sharing writing, art, or photography.

Among the most concerning drawbacks, however, is the risk of cyberbullying. Teenagers and young adults are at greater risk of being harassed and bullied online, which can directly affect their mental health, safety, and well-being (Bozzola et al. 2022). The flipside of sharing photos and images may cause a desire to compare one’s body, accomplishments, and lifestyle with others. These issues of body image and idealized standards may cause anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behaviors including eating disorders (Jarman et al. 2021). Unrestricted, constant social/digital media use has also been linked with sleep disturbances, resulting in difficulty paying attention or concentrating.

It is important to assess and monitor the impact of social media use on day-to-day quality of life. If it interferes with their daily tasks, becomes the main source of their socialization, replaces real-time connection, leads to a constant desire to be validated, or leads to a state of comparison with others and increases feelings of anxiety or depression, it may be time to reduce or pause social media use altogether.

Source: Odua Images/Canvas
Source: Odua Images/Canvas

Can Taking a Break From Social Media Be Helpful?

Teenagers thrive in interpersonal relationships, and social media can be a key element for them to stay in touch with their friends. However, as it can interfere with productivity, focus, and creativity, taking periodic breaks is beneficial (Lambert et al. 2022).

Scheduled breaks from social media can have numerous benefits including improved mood, decreased stress, and more restful sleep. As much as social media makes other people accessible, it does not replace real-time interactions, and taking breaks allows one to be more present in one’s day-to-day life. Additionally, these breaks can help with improved focus, which may lead to increased productivity, creativity, and success, ultimately elevating their self-esteem.

Things to look out for:

1. If social media use is impacting their mental and/or physical health:

  • If they are constantly tracking who viewed their stories, how many "likes" they received, and constantly tracking the number of followers.
  • If their mood depends on their social media engagement.
  • If they feel obligated to post regularly.
  • If they feel anxious when social media is inaccessible.
  • If they feel disappointed when they don’t receive social media engagement.
  • If they feel more anxious or depressed.
  • If they feel like they are in competition with others online.
  • If they are having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night to check a post (Azhari et al. 2023).
  • If they are constantly thinking about their social media post and are preoccupied with comments from others.

2. If social media use is interfering with their day-to-day responsibilities:

  • If the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do before falling asleep is check social media.
  • If they feel like they must present or dress in a certain way for online posts.
  • If they are comparing their outfits, vacations, and physique with others.
  • If they spend large portions of their day on social media.
  • If they are participating in activities just so they can share them on social media.
  • If they cannot focus on a movie, book, or other offline activities without checking their social media.
  • If they cannot be present in real-life interactions.
  • If they procrastinate or neglect their responsibilities.
  • If they are having difficulty performing academically or at work.
  • If their friends or family comment on their social media use being too much.

How to Encourage Your Teen to Take a Social Media Break

It is important to give your teen a sense of control by guiding them to come up with a plan for themselves.

  • Assist them in limiting their use of social media time: Encourage your teen to take initiative and agree on a duration that feels reasonable for social media use. Many smartphones have apps that can help them monitor their social media use, so you don't have to keep track, which can prevent them from feeling scrutinized, empower them, and give them an opportunity to take responsibility.
  • Help create physical barriers between them and the temptation to check their notifications: Encourage your teen to take actions such as keeping their phone in another room, turning off their notifications, or even uninstalling the apps altogether. Depending on the availability of multiple devices, they could have a dedicated device for social media use.
  • Help them find outlets to distance themselves from digital media: Reinforce activities that are incompatible with being online, such as unplugging for a few hours to meet a friend for coffee, spending time in nature, or taking a yoga class.

When to Return to Social Media

You can empower your teen to decide whether they are ready to return to social media by teaching them how to assess themselves.

  • If they feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
  • If they feel in control of their social media use.
  • If they feel they have a clear understanding of how social media serves them.
  • If they have a sense of how it impacts their day-to-day life and relationships.
  • If they feel fulfilled with their real-life social interactions.
  • If they are caught up on their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.
  • If they can reflect on what they learned about themselves and their relationships during the break.
  • If they can have an awareness of what external validation means to them.

How About Never Returning to Social Media?

The pressure of having to leave something can also be limiting. We don’t have to go all the way to an extreme and completely unplug, and it might not be realistic to expect this from our teens since social media is embedded in our culture.

If it is consciously used, social media can open many possibilities previously unavailable. It can be used to widen our perspectives, improve our creative expression, connect us with people from around the world, and be a source of income.

Social media can be a bridge between communities that normally would not have been communicating with one another. As social media increases access to diverse thoughts, cultures, and alternate views of the world, it can create platforms for timely and important discussions.


Azhari A, Toms Z, Pavlopoulou G, Esposito G, Dimitriou D. Social media use in female adolescents: Associations with anxiety, loneliness, and sleep disturbances. Acta Psychol (Amst). 2022 Sep;229:103706.

Bozzola E, Spina G, Agostiniani R, Barni S, Russo R, Scarpato E, Di Mauro A, Di Stefano AV, Caruso C, Corsello G, Staiano A. The Use of Social Media in Children and Adolescents: Scoping Review on the Potential Risks. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Aug 12;19(16):9960.

Jarman HK, Marques MD, McLean SA, Slater A, Paxton SJ. Social media, body satisfaction and well-being among adolescents: A mediation model of appearance-ideal internalization and comparison. Body Image.2021 Mar; 36:139-148.

Lambert J, Barnstable G, Minter E, Cooper J, McEwan D. Taking a One-Week Break from Social Media Improves Well-Being, Depression, and Anxiety: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Cyberpsychology Behav Soc Network. 2022 May;25(5):287-293. Epub 2022 May 3.

Lewin, KM, Kaur, A, Meshi. D. Problematic Social Media Use and Impulsivity. Current Addictions Report, (2023).

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