Digital messaging platforms, including iMessage, WhatsApp and plain old SMS (short message service), have become increasingly popular among adolescents. These platforms, many of which operate within the context of other social media apps and even video games, offer a way for teens to connect with friends and make new ones. They allow like-minded people to gather and discuss common interests in a virtual setting.
While there are many benefits to digital messaging apps, such as building social networks and exploring new ideas, there are also potential negative associations between texting and mental health. Cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content and addiction are some of the negative consequences that can arise from excessive use. These risks are even more pronounced in adolescents and pre-adolescents.
For this reason, it’s critical for parents of teens and preteens to be aware of both the positives and the negatives of digital messaging platforms and to set guidelines to help their children use them appropriately.
Texting and Mental Health: The Positive Impacts of Digital Messaging on Adolescents
Though it carries a host of risks, digital messaging, when used in moderation and in appropriate ways, can positively impact adolescent mental health.
Digital messaging can enhance social connections and help teens form new ones. It does this by allowing adolescents to remain in contact with friends and relatives in ways that weren’t possible before the advent of these apps. This can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially during periods of sadness or high stress.
Digital messaging can also provide a built-in support system for adolescents going through crises or experiencing mental health issues. A friend or confidante is only a few taps away. Interacting over a digital messaging app allows a person to remain somewhat guarded but still able to connect with another person who can offer advice and support.
Finally, simply sharing jokes and lighthearted banter over a digital messaging app can help distressed adolescents mitigate feelings of loneliness and stress.
Negative Impacts of Digital Messaging on Adolescent Mental Health
For all its positives, digital messaging carries a number of risks and potential negative impacts on adolescent mental health. Perhaps the biggest risk is cyberbullying. In contrast to schoolyard bullying that adolescents can escape when the bell rings at the end of the day, cyberbullying can be pervasive and ubiquitous. It happens when individuals use digital messages and social media to harass, intimidate or humiliate other adolescents. Cyberbullying can lead to depression, anxiety, social isolation and low self-esteem.
Another risk to adolescents from digital messaging is social comparison. This is where individuals compare their lives to those of others they see or talk to online. The problem is that what a person sees of another individual’s life online is often just the high points, not the totality of their day-to-day existence. When these highlights get compared to a mundane daily routine, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy.
When adolescents spend too much time texting each other on digital messaging apps, the time in front of the screen can lead to problems. These include headaches, fatigue, eyestrain and poor sleep. Getting enough quality sleep at night is crucial for an adolescent’s present health as well as their physical and mental development, so anything that impedes a good night’s rest can be unhealthy and even dangerous.
Finally, addiction is always a risk when it comes to any type of technology that provides regular dopamine hits, such as those elicited by likes, comments or even simple text message notifications. Research shows that when it comes to technology addiction, adolescents are at the highest risk.
Texting and Mental Health: Tips to Promote Healthy Habits
It’s more critical than ever in today’s digital age to promote the healthy use of technology by adolescents, particularly as it relates to texting and digital messaging apps. This helps teens maintain a balance between their online and offline activities and avoid becoming addicted to their devices.
Here are a few tips for adolescents to keep in mind when using digital messaging apps:
- Set digital media boundaries: Parents should establish rules when it comes to screen time, online behavior and content consumption or creation. This approach fosters communication among family members and helps carve out time for device-free family togetherness, such as during meals.
- Make time for offline recreation: Texting and digital messaging should have limits. It shouldn’t be a constant thing that anyone, particularly an adolescent, does throughout their waking hours. Offline recreation, including exercise and pursuing productive hobbies, is essential for healthy physical, mental and spiritual development.
- Encourage open communication: This one is for both teens and parents. When lines of communication remain open both ways, adolescents are less incentivized to withdraw into their devices.
Parental and Community Involvement in Telehealth: Promoting Positive Mental Health Strategies Together
Promoting responsible digital messaging use is one of the biggest challenges faced today by parents, teachers and community leaders. With the right parental guidance and community support, teens can learn to harness the positives of digital messaging while mitigating the negatives.
Both parents and teachers play a critical role in promoting the safe use of technology among teens and adolescents. Teachers can use social media to amplify learning while also imparting lessons on its safe and productive use. Parents can set rules and boundaries, but in order for these to work, they must be enforced consistently.
The community at large can also play a role in promoting safe texting and digital messaging habits. It can do this by providing safe offline outlets for teens to congregate and socialize, such as parks, recreation centers, swimming pools, climbing walls and skate parks.
By working together, parents, schools and communities can promote responsible digital message use that supports mental health and maximizes the chance of their children staying safe in their digital lives.
If your teen or adolescent is struggling with mental health issues that might be exacerbated by technology, a compassionate professional from Sun Health Center can help. Contact us today to speak to a team member.