Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Inquiring About Young Patients’ Social Media Use


Clinicians can encourage teens to avoid self-comparison by asking about the ways they use online platforms, not just how often.

It’s well known that social media negatively impacts mental health, especially in teens. Several studies have correlated social media use with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. However, different forms of social media use result in different outcomes. One study found that social comparison by teens on social media correlated with symptoms of depression. Another small study found that older teens who use social media passively, such as by just viewing others’ photos, experienced decreased life satisfaction. Those who used social media to interact with others or post their own content didn’t experience these declines. 


These studies demonstrate that the issue isn’t simply how often a teen logs onto social media, but also how they use it. Many platforms try to blur the lines between using social media for fun and earning a living as an influencer. This invites casual users to wonder why their lives look so different from these other “casual users.” 


Being an influencer is much like being “the man behind the curtain.” While viewers  may think the content creator is as effortlessly gorgeous, influencers spend a ton of time planning posts, staging shots, and editing. Their skin is airbrushed or if the shape of their body has been altered. While many teens are aware that social media content is manipulated, this does little to improve its effects on mental health.  


Almost all teens have been exposed to social media. “Social media abstinence” is almost laughable, and can also result in social isolation and anxiety. However, we can help teens understand how to use social media in the safest and healthiest manner possible. In addition to asking “How often?” clinicians can ask how their young patients are using social media:  


1. What apps do they use?


2. How often do they post content?


3. Do they spend most of their time viewing their friends’ posts or those of celebrities?


By asking specific questions, healthcare professionals and caregivers can encourage teens to engage in social media behaviors that avoid self-comparison. 









This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.