Teens Using Social Media to Self-Diagnose Mental Health Issues

By Rebecca Paredes
April 10, 2024
teen girl using laptop in bedroom

Welcome to Parent Pixels, a parenting newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. This week:

  • 55% of students use social media to self-diagnose mental health conditions. We break down what this means and how parents can talk to their kids about what’s on their feed. 
  • As of Jan. 1, 2025, kids under 14 are banned from having social media accounts in Florida — assuming the bill isn't held up in court.
  • This week in Tech Talks: conversation-starters to check in with your child about mental health, checking their sources, and more.

Digital Parenting

Kids are using social media to self-diagnose

If your teen suddenly has a new lexicon of mental health terms, like “trauma response” and “major depressive disorder,” TikTok may be to blame. A poll by EdWeek found that 55% of students use social media to self-diagnose mental health conditions, and 65% of teachers say they’ve seen the phenomenon in their classrooms. 

“Kids are all coming in and I’m asking them, ‘Where did you get this diagnosis?’” said Don Grant, national adviser for healthy device management at Newport Healthcare, in an interview with The Hill. Grant said he would get responses such as “Oh, there’s an [influencer],” “Oh, I took a quiz,” or “Oh, there’s a group on social media that talks about it.”  

Social media can help kids understand their feelings and find ways to cope. The EdWeek poll found that 72% of educators believe social media has made it easier for students to be more open about their mental health struggles. And it makes sense that kids would turn to a space they know — social media and online groups — to get information, rather than finding a mental health professional first (or talking to their parents). 

However, the topic gets tricky when you consider the fact that social media sites don’t exactly verify that the people sharing medical advice are, in fact, medical experts. While there are plenty of experts sharing legitimate information online, there are also influencers who are paid to talk about products that improved their anxiety and off-label medications that cured their depression. 

Big picture: Self-diagnosing on social media is also problematic because algorithms can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most algorithms, like TikTok, use a user’s activity to determine what they see next on their feed. If a teen thinks they have depression, they’ll see more content about depression — which may confirm their self-diagnosis, even if they aren’t clinically depressed.

As parents, it’s important to talk to your child about mental health, how to cope with big emotions, and what to do if they need a professional. But it’s also essential to know where they’re getting their mental health information and what they’re seeing on their social media feeds. 

Don’t dismiss their feelings outright — be curious. Talk to your child about verifying their sources of information. If they’re getting medical advice from an online creator, are they an actual doctor or therapist? Or are they simply someone who’s popular online?

Parent Pixels is a biweekly newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. Want this newsletter delivered to your inbox a day early? Subscribe here.

Florida passes one of the most restrictive social media bans for minors

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill that bans kids under 14 from creating social media accounts and requires parental consent for kids under 16. The bill requires that companies delete accounts belonging to 14- and 15-year-olds and implement age verification measures to ensure that kids aren’t lying about their ages. 

Florida’s bill is the most restrictive social media ban in the nation, and that’s after DeSantis vetoed an earlier version of the bill that would have banned all accounts for kids under 16. At the bill-signing ceremony, Republican Speaker Paul Renner said, “A child in their brain development doesn’t have the ability to know that they’re being sucked into these addictive technologies and to see the harm and step away from it, and because of that we have to step in for them.”

Legal upheaval: The bill takes effect Jan. 1, 2025, pending any legal challenges. Tech industry groups have already come out against the bill, including NetChoice, an association that represents major social media platforms and is currently battling with the Supreme Court over a separate social media law. 

“This bill goes too far in taking away parents’ rights,” Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a news release. “Instead of banning social media access, it would be better to ensure improved parental oversight tools, improved access to data to stop bad actors, alongside major investments in Florida’s mental health systems and programs.”

In our last issue, we covered Utah’s decision to repeal and replace its social media law after months of legal challenges that delayed the bill’s implementation. Although DeSantis and Renner have signaled that they’re ready to fight to keep Florida’s social media ban in place, time will tell whether or not Florida’s kids will have to wait until their sweet 16 to get on Snapchat. 

Tech Talks With Your Child

How will you check in with your child about online safety this week? Save these conversation-starters for your next check-in. 

  1. "Have you ever come across anything online that made you feel uncomfortable or worried?”
  2. "Do you know how to check if information you find online is true or reliable? Let's talk about how to evaluate sources together."
  3. "How do you feel after spending time on social media? Does it ever affect your mood or feelings about yourself?"
  4. "What would you do if you received a message or saw a post that talked about depression or anxiety? Do you know who to talk to?"
  5. “What are some ways you like to spend time with your friends offline? Can we plan any upcoming events or get-togethers?”

Practical Parenting Tips

How does screen time affect sleep?

Sleep can impact everything from brain performance, to mood, to mental and physical health. Our children aren’t getting enough sleep, either, and screens are one of the prime suspects. But how does screen time affect sleep?

A parent’s guide to Pinterest parental controls

Pinterest use is up among teens. Gen Zers are using the website as a canvas for self-expression and exploration. Learn more about how to keep your child safe on the site with Pinterest parental controls.  

What’s Catching Our Eye

😮‍💨 What is the “mental load” of parenting, and how does it affect your emotions, sleep quality, and job performance?

🚩 What are the red flags that you need to worry about your child’s mental health? Save this list from Techno Sapiens.

🤝 Rules and restrictions aren’t the end-all, be-all to parenting in the digital age — you also need a healthy, emotionally rich relationship with your teen. Read more at Psychology Today.

📵 When it comes to protecting kids’ mental health, Florida’s social media ban won’t be that simple, writes David French for the New York Times

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