How adults can help youth engage in helpful and appropriate social media use

Social media is not inherently helpful to young people. The impact of social media and what youth see and do online depends on several variables. An adolescent’s personality, psychological characteristics, social circumstances, context in which they have grown up, strengths, and vulnerabilities are all characteristics that determine social media’s effect on youth.

Adolescent development is gradual and continuous. Therefore, depending on the child, appropriate use of social media should be based on self-regulation, intellectual growth, comprehension of potential risks, and their home environments. Overall, the best outcomes occur when there are limits and boundaries around how youth use social media. Discussions and coaching between children and adults around the appropriate use of social media are a must. Youth need to understand time limits, recommended content, how to use the “like” button, and most importantly, how their behavior on social media can be used, stored, and shared with others.

Some social media can be beneficial. For example, functions that support social support and companionship help youth who otherwise feel isolated, want access to like-minded peers, or seek mental health support. On the other hand, when social media interrupts sleep and physical activity or supports excessive social and physical comparison or maladaptive behaviors such as eating disorders or self-harm, social media can be harmful. Social media that pays excessive attention to behaviors related to beauty and appearance have been shown to result in poorer body image, disordered eating, and depression among adolescents.

The Surgeon General’s 2023 social media and Youth Mental Health Advisory’s Call to Action includes:

  • creating tech-free zones,
  • encouraging in-person interactions
  • modeling responsible social media behavior
  • educating youth about appropriate social media use.

There is also a push for digital and media literacy curricula in schools and with academic standards, so educators and students strengthen digital resilience – the ability to recognize, manage, and recover from online risks such as cyberbullying, harassment and abuse, and excessive media use.

Simple tips for youth include:

  • Take social media breaks.
  • Turn off notifications to limit distractions during studying and socializing.
  • Unfriend, unfollow, mute any social media accounts that do not show you respect or make you feel good about yourself.
  • Track screen time. Try to decrease the time.
  • Prioritize sleep, physical activity, and in-person interactions with family and friends.

Surgeon General’s 2023 Social Media, Youth, and Mental Health Advisory

American Psychology Association 2023 Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescents

Three Benefits of Social Media in Times of Crisis

Traumatic events that are in the form of natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes or flooding, and human created disasters related to disease outbreak, terrorism, gun violence and other occurrences of mass violence, can have an immense impact on mental health and vulnerability to traumatic stress. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-SAMHSA, 2019)

The use of social media can be a valuable tool in these times of crisis for survivors, first responders, affected communities and beyond. This blog post highlights three ways social media can play a beneficial role before, during and after times of tragedy and trauma.

1. Broadcasting critical information: Social media’s communication platforms can provide announcements to help with preparation for impending events and provide warning, response, recovery and educational updates. A benefit of using social media for providing and receiving information is that the content can be communicated in real time and  broadcasted to a broad audience quickly and easily. Social media is often used as the fastest way to inform others, such as family and loved ones, about safety status, needing help or relaying critical messages and updates. This can help decrease fear and worry, as well as empower affected individuals, communities and the public with a feeling of control amidst a situation that is often chaotic and overwhelming.

2. Promoting resiliency: An important factor that creates and strengthens resiliency and the ability to recover and come back from distressing events and experiences is connection to others. A sense of belonging and community can be facilitated through social media and let survivors and affected individuals know they are not alone, they have support and there is an outlet for coping. Social media can also be vital for sustaining ongoing connection in the aftermath of trauma and loss through our personal or group networks, creating digital spaces for sharing virtual memorials, memories, images and story telling.

3. Access to resources: Sites in the form of social media networks, blogs and websites offer a way to obtain and exchange information and resources in times of emergency, crisis, or disaster. Some examples of tools online include:

  • Facebook Crisis Response: With this response tool, you can mark yourself safe when an emergency takes place in your area, and those you are connected to on Facebook will be notified. You can also use this tool to find or give assistance and receive information during and after a crisis at
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention Twitter Alerts: The CDC’s Center for Preparedness and Response provides crisis or emergency updates at
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) Twitter Alerts:FEMA provides support to citizens and first responders before, during and after emergencies at

SAMHSA also recommends these social media resources:

A note of real caution with using social media, of course, is that misinformation can spread quickly and widely, so it is important to be mindful of where you obtain your information online. Another challenge of social media is individual opinion can be interpreted, reported or shared as fact. This confusion can cause additional uncertainty, heightened arousal and response in the face of critical situations. Filtering your social media exposure by using the tools suggested above can help navigate and manage these risks. It is also valuable to be aware of privacy, security and safety issues, such as disclosing personal or location information that could put you at risk on social media, especially in moments of crisis or great need. And finally, an important consideration that has been addressed in previous blogs and content is to mindfully manage and monitor social media exposure and content that can become a source of traumatization.

Social media can certainly be a lifeline in critical times, and I believe the benefits (and challenges) to bring assistance and resources to others prior, throughout and following an event are worth trauma practitioners becoming familiar with in our digitally connected world.


Social media and disasters

The role of social media in disaster psychiatry

Community resilience as a metaphor, theory, set of capacities, and strategy for disaster readiness

Emergent use of social media: a new age of opportunity for disaster resilience

Online social media in crisis events

Resilience-based reflections for disaster recovery:

Trauma informed considerations & strategies: Helping kids manage distressing events and news:

Trauma from TV, radio, and social media: