Social Media and Grieving Teens
Kids Path counselors often get questions from the caregivers of teenagers about whether social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram are unhealthy for their child. Common concerns include “Is my teen using their phone to avoid ‘real life?’” and “Will my teen be bullied on social media?”
Although these concerns are understandable, social media can be a useful social and expressive tool for teens who are coping with grief.
Below is an overview of how social media can be beneficial for teens who have experienced loss, as well as suggestions for how families can encourage safe and healthy engagement in social media.
Memorializing Their Loved One.
Teens who are accustomed to sharing their ideas and experiences on social media may find comfort in sharing memories of their loved one online. Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, allow users to preserve their loved one’s profile so that friends and family can look at old posts and pictures. Some teens may choose to post on or send a message to the profile of the person who died, which stems from a normal desire to maintain communication with that person.
Strengthening Social Connections.
Social media apps provide a built-in sense of having a teen’s grief witnessed and validated through likes or heart reactions. In addition, receiving posts and messages about the loss from peers helps alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness that the teen may be experiencing. Many teens’ primary mode of communication with peers is through social media apps, so even though your teen may be spending a great deal of time on the internet, it is likely that they are expressing themselves and talking to friends. It is important for your grieving teen to keep these channels of communication open.
Providing Opportunities for Self-Expression.
In the same way that younger children might benefit from creating a photo album or story scrapbook about the person who died, social media can be an ideal platform for teens to use creative self-expression to process grief emotions. Grieving teens may benefit from engaging in a complex project such as designing, directing and editing a video in honor of the person who died that can then be shared on social media. Even with a brief and simple experience like adding Instagram filters to favorite photos, teens can have the opportunity to make creative choices and feel a sense of mastery over a situation that has otherwise been out of their control.
Age-Appropriate Monitoring of Social Media Use.
In general, it can be a good idea to keep an eye on your teen’s use of social media in accordance with your parenting approach. Your teen may need to be reminded to limit their privacy settings and practice safe boundaries with individuals they have not met in person. Additionally, the online environment can enable bullying or harassment. Parental monitoring can provide a safeguard against the escalation of harsh words springing from the intense emotions of grief, particularly when a sudden loss affects many in the community.
Consult a Kids Path Counselor.
For a no-cost phone consultation about how your teen is coping with death or illness, call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with any Kids Path counselor.