Originally published in The Argonaut – August 11, 2022
BY ILINIZA BATY
Venice Family Clinic is providing a series of tips to help teens navigate social media in a mentally healthy and responsible way. While it is well-documented that social media can negatively impact mental health, it also provides access to a wealth of resources, communities and information. And it is not going away any time soon: 90% of teens ages 13 to 17 across the U.S. report having used some type of social media, and American teens spent more time than ever on social media channels during the past two years of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
First and foremost, ensuring teen safety on social media must be the main priority. Keys to safely navigating social media include limiting contact information in profiles and posts; never giving away personal information like current location, phone numbers or addresses; keeping private information private; and never meeting up with an unknown person without a parent or friend present. They also include making sure that information is coming from reputable sources.
In addition to these guidelines for ensuring teens’ physical safety, Venice Family Clinic’s director of behavioral health, Iliniza (Nisa) Baty, has provided the following four tips to help teens and their families use social media in a mentally healthy way.
- Find and interact with your tribe. Social media allows us unparalleled access to people and groups with whom we share interests. Teens can take advantage of these connections to build networks of folks with similar hobbies or pursuits. With millions of people starting new groups every day, it is easier than ever to find a group of people who enjoy the same things and want to connect – whether it is an online book club, a group of like-minded aspiring chefs, a cadre of dedicated hikers or something else entirely. “Identifying and engaging with people who benefit your mental health is key,” Baty said. “Finding people who ‘fill your cup’ instead of draining your energy empowers us to feel stronger and more positive.” As an example, she shared that one of her patients began teaching online Zumba classes when the pandemic began. The patient now leads both in-person and online community classes of like-minded exercise enthusiasts that have become support systems for those involved.
- Learn and try new things. Social media can provide teens with windows into new information and experiences–from games, recipes and dance trends to do-it-yourself tutorials on how to fix a hole in the wall or build a compass. Online experiences have also become commonplace during COVID-19: virtual concerts, podcasts, seminars and lessons are great opportunities for teens to improve their knowledge and self-confidence.
- Always exercise best practices and use social media in moderation. In addition to exercising caution and following best practices for safe social media use, teens should limit their social media and screen time to improve mental health. “Treat your body well and your brain will follow,” Baty tells teens. “Introducing a ‘digital sunset’ before a good night’s sleep can help improve sleep patterns and reduce anxiety. When you do use social media, take regular breaks to get outside and make sure to interact with nature and participate in physical activities. To promote well-being, hydrate regularly and sleep six to eight hours each night.”
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to others IRL. Most importantly, according to Baty, is not to let teens’ use of social media isolate them. “Social connection is absolutely vital to teens’ mental health,” Baty said. “We all have experienced increased social isolation since COVID-19 began, and social media can be a wonderful tool to bridge that gap–especially for teens struggling with issues they may not be able to share at home. But it is essential to build connections with others in real life for deeper well-being.” Ways to avoid isolation can include seeking more face-to-face time (even if through video chat), limiting digital notifications and restricting the number of hours spent online. And, as Baty points out, social media is far from the only avenue for help with mental health. Local community groups, clubs and sports teams are great outlets for improving mental health, and many schools offer counseling and programs to assist teens. Venice Family Clinic also offers a variety of services to serve teens and its other patients at several locations across Los Angeles, including teen counseling, LGBTQ+ support, substance use treatment, and even programs like cooking classes, Zumba and yoga.
“Social media can be a great tool for gathering information, sharing ideas and reaching out to others when used responsibly.” Baty said. “By providing these tips, we hope to help teens and their families improve their mental well-being while navigating this digital landscape.”
Venice Family Clinic is a leader in providing comprehensive, high-quality primary health care to people in need. Having recently merged with South Bay Family Health Care, the combined organization serves 45,000 patients through 17 locations in Venice, Santa Monica, Mar Vista, Inglewood, Culver City, Redondo Beach, Carson, Gardena and Hawthorne plus two mobile clinics and an expansive street medicine program for people experiencing homelessness. The Clinic provides integrated care by creating a one-stop health system that offers multiple services, often at the same locations and same time as primary care appointments. These services include dental care, substance use treatment, mental health services, vision services, child development services, health education, prescription medications, domestic violence counseling, HIV services and health insurance enrollment. For more information, visit venicefamilyclinic.org.