The much-anticipated holiday season brings with it the joy of connecting with family and friends. But don’t be surprised if students, home for the holidays and with ample time on their hands, spend hours buried in their phones on social media. Blue Shield of California's “BlueSky Youth Mental Health Survey,” published earlier this year, found Gen Z youth around the nation average more than five and a half hours on social media every day.
The pros and cons of social media
“Social media can be both a negative and a positive experience, so it’s important to treat screen time — especially for youth — with care,” said David Bond, LCSW, and director of Behavioral Health at Blue Shield of California.
“With so many negative images on TikTok and Instagram, youth can ‘doom scroll’ harmful content for hours, which can adversely impact mental health,” he added.
Bond notes that excessive social media use not only affects mental health, but also compromises physical well-being, as young people remain sedentary and miss out on essential physical activities while immersed in screen-scrolling sessions.
Instead, Bond encourages young people and their families to intentionally carve out time during the holidays to put down phones and laptops to connect with the world — and the people — right in front of their eyes.
Constant exposure to carefully crafted social posts that depict unrealistic body images and/or exceptional holiday experiences may also cause young people to feel inadequate. “These become problematic when youth start comparing themselves to social media influencers who have good looks, lots of wealth, and seem constantly happy,” Bond said.
It’s not all bad news on TikTok, Instagram and the like, however. The BlueSky survey found that almost a third (31%) of Gen Z youth said social media provides positive experiences for them, citing enjoying entertainment and learning new things.
“Social media can also be a great way for young people to find community — peers who think and feel like they do, who support each other, and help youth feel seen and heard,” Bond said.
Connecting in person is paramount
Idle time during the holidays can also be a breeding ground for loneliness, especially when friends are scattered across different locations. To combat this, it's essential to focus on building genuine connections offline, explained Bond.
"Engaging in activities with family members, reconnecting with hometown friends, or volunteering in the community can fill the void left by the absence of school routines,” he said. “These activities not only offer a sense of purpose but can also create new, meaningful memories beyond the digital realm.”
Embracing the idea of a ‘digital detox’ can be a powerful strategy too. “Give youth — and yourself — specific times for social media use, and designate periods for unplugging from screens for a healthier balance overall,” said Bond. He also encourages face-to-face interactions such as game nights or coffee catch-ups, which can provide the emotional connections that social media sometimes lacks.
For more tips on social media usage from the U.S. Surgeon General's office, click here.
For more on Blue Shield's BlueSky youth mental health initiative, click here.