As you scroll through Instagram, most of the posts you see show friends traveling or on some fun adventure.
Other posts, however, include more than just smiling faces or puppy dogs, instead giving viewers a reason to stop and think.
It’s these posts, many of which include information with the goal of spreading awareness on important topics, which are beginning to reach teens on social media.
The Child & Family Center is using its Instagram page, the aptly named @fn_ction, to help teens with how to function in a healthy way during a dysfunctional time, according to the page’s organizers, Daniel Moran and Leah Parker, outreach specialists at the Child & Family Center.
“We wanted to give (teens) a healthy voice in the mix of all the unhealthy voices that they’re surrounded with in (the) media,” Parker said. “They’re at such a pivotal time in their development where they need something positive, and we wanted to be able to provide that on top of everything else that we do.”
The “lightbulb moment” came to Moran and Parker after they realized the agency’s current social media wasn’t reaching the youth population. They wanted to find a way to bridge that gap and talk to them where they are: on social media.
Instead of shying away from the important topics, posts range from mental health or sexual assault awareness to substance abuse or domestic violence, as well as trending topics.
“(Posts) are usually tailored around our services, but we also like to throw in a lot of inspirational stuff, as well,” Moran added. “There’s a lot of stigma behind these topics too, so we try to provide the information in a very tasteful way … and paint a different picture that doesn’t show the stigmatization behind a lot of the topics.”
It’s posts like this that teens respond well to, according to organizers, who say teens typically thank them for being real with them and have nurtured engaging conversations.
The page is something Moran said they hope to use as a tool to build a brand, giving teens the resources they need both online and off, as well as a way to connect with other agencies across the world to create a larger resource network.
“The ultimate goal is to just watch this become a very viral place for youth, not only in our valley but throughout the country,” Parker said. “Social media allows us that avenue to be able to take it beyond, so we’re very excited to watch this grow and bring awareness.”
And the Child & Family Center isn’t the only one taking to social media as a way to spread awareness.
Dr. Neela Sethi of Valencia Pediatrics started posting videos to social media when she began receiving numerous pandemic-related questions from parents, with videos focusing on answering common questions she’s received about COVID-19.
While her first video was a simple plea for people to stay home, she soon found herself trying to empower her patients with knowledge, using the platform to help the community, trying to encourage people to be positive, but also working to put an end to some of the misinformation she’d been seeing, she said.
“Social media is not going anywhere, so to have the stance that social media is completely negative and terrible for our teens and that you should just not allow them to have it, is not very realistic,” Sethi said.
Instead, Sethi suggests teens find a healthy balance in their relationship with social media, taking it in moderation.
Social media allows teens to create online identities, communicate with others, and build social networks, and it’s these networks that ultimately can provide them with valuable support, especially assisting those who feel excluded or have disabilities, said Dr. Daniel Bennett, chief of psychiatry for the Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center area.
That support can include staying up to date with family and friends, which was especially important through the pandemic, or even establishing new friends, Bennett added.
Moreover, social media can be a tool in raising awareness on important issues, while providing emotional support during difficult times, which Bennett and Sethi both said is filling a care gap that has been especially important with the restrictions due to COVID-19.
“There is something that comes with the social aspect of social media, hence the name obviously, that has brought joy and connectedness to teens during COVID, and I think that can be celebrated, it just has to be done in the right way,” Sethi said.
Social media does have its downfalls, both Bennett and Sethi agreed, as it can cause users to have skewed perspectives, among other issues.
“Often, social media can cause a person to feel inadequate about their life or appearance due to manipulated images they are viewing,” Bennett said. “Another issue is the ‘fear of missing out,’ where teenagers feel they are missing out on activities, which can, in turn, impact their self-esteem and trigger anxiety. … Also, through the use of social media platforms, major problems such as cyberbullying and self-absorption exist.”
Excessively using social media can lead to increases in anxiety and depression, Sethi added, but each teen is different and should be treated as such when it comes to managing their social media use and speaking with them about how it’ll affect their mental health.
“Communicating is the best way for you to find out what’s going on and to see if you can offer help, should you feel like your teen needs it,” Sethi said, adding that one-on-one time is helpful in getting them to open up.
“Bottom line: Social media can be a useful tool,” Bennett added, “but certain pitfalls must be recognized and addressed to avoid a further exacerbation of mental health issues.”