When I was a teenager, the internet wasn't a thing yet. If I wanted to talk to my friends about mental health, I had to do it in person or on the phone–and that was if I felt like mental health wasn’t too taboo a topic to approach a friend with. These days, teens can tap on an app, swipe through a few videos, and find an almost endless source of support regarding mental health topics. While parents may be apprehensive about teen social media use, the ability for teenagers to connect with others about their mental health can actually be a good thing if approached with the right mindset.
Social Media and TikTok
The data is clear: TikTok, the short-form video app, is the social media of choice for young people. The app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times worldwide, and nearly half of all users are between the ages of 10 and 29. Teens can scroll through videos of people dancing, riffing off of the latest viral audio clip, or showing off a new makeup look. They can also delve into a myriad of TikTok communities, including a growing subset of content devoted to discussing mental health issues and resources.
Parents may be concerned about their child’s use of social media, especially TikTok. Social media has increasingly been blamed in recent years for exacerbating the mental health problems of young people. It's fair to say that frequent self-comparison to others’ seemingly "perfect" lives, added pressure to be available 24/7, and a constant inundation of news can definitely take its toll. Given these potential drawbacks of social media, it might seem counterintuitive that therapists praise TikTok for its role in mental health awareness. But there's a good reason for it: when used properly, TikTok can be a great resource for teenagers looking for mental health support.
The Power of TikTok for mental health
A major benefit of online communities like TikTok is that they can normalize conversations around mental health issues, especially for those that grew up in a community or family not open to talking about mental health. As discussing mental health struggles or symptoms of mental illnesses can be seen as taboo for many communities, younger generations are increasingly turning to the internet to find a community where they can openly discuss these topics. These communities can help a teen struggling with mental health issues feel less alone and more connected with others.
TikTok can also be used to find mental health resources–if done carefully. Many reputable mental health professionals use TikTok every day to share information and create a sense of community. Culturally diverse therapists on TikTok can also show that therapy and mental healthcare are for everyone, not just certain groups of people.
Maintaining a Healthy Relationship Between Your Child & TikTok
So, what can you do to help your teenager use TikTok in a way that helps rather than harms their mental health?
First, it’s important that you and your teenager have a good sense of social media literacy. This means talking with your child about what is and isn’t a reputable source online, and discussing misinformation and how to spot it. Encourage your teenager to check the qualifications of the creators they follow–a reputable mental health professional should state their qualifications online, and will often have a link to their website in their TikTok bio. Discuss staying away from videos that suggest quick, easy fixes for mental health struggles. Avoid accounts seeking payment for ‘consultations’ or ‘subscriptions’, as you risk running into scams.
Next, focus on the importance of maintaining healthy social media boundaries. Talking about mental health online can be a powerful way of decreasing stigma and finding community, but it can also be overwhelming. Help your teenager remember that if she finds herself becoming too absorbed by TikTok or other social media sites, it’s always okay to take a break. If your teen finds an account that is particularly distressing, it’s always okay to use that block or mute button–they’re there for a reason!
Finally, if it isn’t properly utilized, social media can be particularly problematic when it comes to body image. The pervasiveness of photoshop and filters on images and videos on social media can prompt comparisons and a sense of inadequacy in teens. In extreme cases, there are also online communities that promote eating disorders and unhealthy weight loss tactics. While this is concerning, there are also great resources online for myth-busting these messages, such as Sarah Puhto and Caroline Ross, both of whom are dedicated to showing how the images presented on social media often differ from reality.
For many teens, finding a sense of shared community is incredibly important, and community spaces are increasingly found online. These online spaces allow teenagers to see their experiences reflected by others, which can provide comfort and validation for teens struggling with mental health problems. Instead of trying to work against social media (a struggle for many parents these days!), focus on open discussions with your teenager about how to use social media to best support their mental health.
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Laurel Therapy Collective
offers online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.