What Role Does Social Media Play in Behavior Issues?

Social media has an unavoidable impact on how we view ourselves. Excessive use of technology is often associated with a distorted worldview and less time devoted to healthy behaviors. Researchers have spent a lot of time analyzing the effect of social media on teen mental health but are just starting to take a look at the role social media plays in behavior issues.

Online Socialization

There are many reasons teens have turned to social media to shape their sense of identity. Social media allows teens to stay connected with friends and family by facilitating conversations and group chats. They are more likely to stay up-to-date on current events through social media than the news. In addition to local news, they learn more about trends in style and offline behaviors, like sexual experimentation and drug experimentation. 

Online Identities

For many teens, their online lives are an extension of their offline lives. For others, they find it easier to express themselves online and to build their own online communities to escape from stressors in their offline lives. For both groups of teens, the Internet gives them the opportunity to construct their ideal self, by showing off exciting life experiences, material possessions, and interacting with others freely. 

Problems with the Online World

According to a clinical report by Gwenn O’Keefe, MD, the risks of technology for adolescents fall into four main categories:

  • Peer-to-peer
  • Inappropriate content
  • Lack of understanding of online privacy issues
  • Outside influences of third-party advertising groups

Nearly all teenagers use some form of social media and can spend up to 40 hours a week using technology. Internet addiction isn’t necessarily defined by time spent online, but the way teens use the Internet. The lack of human connection and potential for negative peer interactions leads to child behavior issues and emotional struggles if not closely monitored.

Rise of Behavior Issues with Social Media “Privacy”

Though bullying and sexual experimentation have been a part of adolescent behavior for generations, the Internet offers the privacy and anonymity to increase the frequency and severity of these child behavior issues. Teens are more likely to post inappropriate pictures or comments when they do not have to deal with immediate response. Things can escalate much more quickly when teens feel anonymous behind the protection of a digital screen. When bullied in school, the possibility of more than a few people hearing or seeing is low. However, a negative online comment or sexual photo can reach hundreds of students in mere minutes.

Romanticizing Behavioral Issues

One of the biggest problems with social media is that it paints an unrealistic picture of how often other teens are engaging in risky behaviors. Teens tend to overestimate the extent to which their peers smoke, drink, hook up, and sneak out to justify their own behaviors, but their perceptions are often based on what other people advertise through social media. 

Teens are more likely to post pictures of themselves at a party than at home in sweatpants. They are also more likely to exaggerate their rebelliousness by posting “inappropriate” lyrics or claiming they don’t care what other people think of them. While social media gives teens a platform to be more vulnerable and reach out for support, it also gives teens an opportunity to carefully cultivate what other people think of them–by presenting them as more cool and carefree than they may be offline.

Creating a Healthy Relationship with Social Media

Recent research explores the negative implications of social media, including sleep issues, an overall increase in stress and a rise in mental health conditions and addiction to technology. There are also concerns about cyberbullying and youth and teen safety online. So how do you help your teen have a healthy relationship with social media?

Unfollow Unhealthy Accounts: Does your teen notice that following certain accounts or influencers causes them to feel poorly about themselves? When they are finished scrolling through social media do they feel overwhelmed or like they are failing at life? 

It’s important to remember that, often, the images and stories on social media aren’t reflective of real life. Teens who find themselves constantly comparing themselves to others may notice a negative effect on their happiness, self-esteem and overall sense of life satisfaction. They can put an end to the negativity by reviewing the accounts they follow. Encourage them to unfollow, block or delete accounts that don’t bring positivity, motivation, or inspiration into their life. 

Support And Connect With Others: Social media can be an amazing tool for connecting with others, but if those interactions leave teens feeling isolated or upset they need to reevaluate why they are using social media. Do they want to engage with others who share their interests? If so, search for digital communities of people with who they have something in common with. From there, they can be more selective with who you connect and engage with.

Be Aware of What They Share: Oversharing is a common problem for teens on social media. There is even a common saying: “Pics or it didn’t happen.” Meaning that for an event or interaction to “count” there needs to be documentation of it. And while sharing all their meals and snacks on Instagram may be oversharing for some, there is a more dangerous side to sharing too much. This can include personal information or geo-tags for their home or school. Often teens do not fully realize the extent of the personal information they are putting out there into the world. They may accept friend requests or follows without realizing that they are potentially making themselves vulnerable. Having an awareness of how to keep their private information private can help teens stay safer on social media. 

Reduce Screen Time: Smartphones are quite literally everywhere these days. In any public setting, we’re likely to notice others with their eyes glued to their phones. In fact, recent studies reveal that people spend an average of over two hours a day on social media. If you’re concerned your teen may be spending too much time on social media, try encouraging them to adopt healthier habits. Start by tracking the time they spend on social media. Once they have an understanding of the amount of time they’re spending online, you can help them set a limit around their smartphone use.

Take A Break: Taking some time away from social media and technology can help your teen feel more balanced and have a positive impact on their mental health. As a family, you can set “phone-free” times like meals or the hour before bed. You can also create opportunities for real-world interactions as a family or with their friends. It is important for teens to have interests and hobbies outside of their social media use.  They might rediscover an old hobby or sport and remember that it’s more exciting to live life as it’s happening, as opposed to “living” through a screen.

Seek Out Help: For some teens who have a negative social media relationship, setting boundaries at home may not be enough to change behavior problems. For these teens, a wilderness therapy program where they can disconnect with the support of clinical professionals may be the right choice. 

Unplugging with Wilderness Therapy

In the wilderness, there are unwritten rules that cannot be broken and offer natural consequences when not followed. For example, if a student refuses to put on a rain jacket when it starts to rain, they will end up drenched and uncomfortable. These rules leave no room to blame authority figures, and foster improved accountability and self-reflection. This is the power of wilderness therapy programs.

Removing a troubled child from the temptations of our fast-paced, plugged-in culture and placing them in a wilderness setting disrupts the cycle of negative behavior. Wilderness therapy programs provide an excellent therapeutic environment and educational setting that encourages growth and change.

Though much of our day-to-day lives are removed from nature, humans crave a connection with nature. For many in this generation, quality time outdoors has been replaced by technology time indoors, but there are numerous therapeutic and healing qualities afforded by a natural setting, which is why wilderness therapy programs are so effective.

Learning is far more effective in the wilderness. As struggles are encountered, Trails’ trained staff are there to help direct the process and offer insights to students that may not think of on their own. Furthermore, learning alongside peers creates a shared challenge, offering additional learning benefits, support and the opportunity to practice positive social skills. These same skills seamlessly translate into other group settings, such as the classroom or family unit.

Trails Carolina Can Help

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program that helps teens ages 10-17 who are struggling with behavioral and emotional issues. This program uses adventure-based therapy to help students gain a new sense of self-awareness, confidence, and independence. The skills they learn throughout the wilderness program offer long-term benefits towards their ability to successfully self-navigate in the real world. By removing teens from their fast-paced environment into a safe, nurturing, and peaceful environment, they are able to focus on improving and reflecting upon their behavior. Trails Carolina gives students the tools they need to lead happy and healthy lives. 

Contact us at 800-975-7303. We can help your family today!

Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: https://trailscarolina.com/common-ground-podcast/ With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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