Social media is no longer just for networking with friends and family. In fact, many teens follow more influencers than people they know online. In order to go “viral” on a platform, their posts have to be public. As digital privacy becomes less important to teens, many teens are becoming more digitally intimate–sharing personal details online to people they don’t know in person. For teens with social anxiety who find it easier to develop online relationships than with their peers offline, it is important to remember that navigating online relationships requires different social rules.
Why Does Socializing Online Feel Safer for Some Teens?
- More anonymity
- Delayed response time
- Can use filters, Photoshop, or a fake name
- Less expectation of intimacy
- Less fear of rejection
- Wider circle of acquaintances
For some teens who have experienced rejection and isolation offline, they may feel more comfortable interacting with others through a screen. Even if they recognize that their online relationships aren’t healthy or that the other person isn’t putting in enough effort, they may continue to pursue this relationship as online rejection hurts less than face-to-face rejection. If someone were to reject them online, it is not like the entire school would find out and shame them.
Another benefit of socializing online for teens with social anxiety is that, in some ways, they might experience less Fear of Missing Out. They are able to maintain a wider circle of acquaintances and keep tabs on what is going on in the lives of people they know without being expected to start a conversation or make plans. This can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Online socializing can help anxious teens maintain relationships with acquaintances that they may have struggled to make the effort to see, if they go to different schools or live in different cities. It can also help them develop stronger relationships with people that they may be too anxious to talk to at school. For example, introverted teens may prefer texting someone back and forth than picking up the phone or meeting someone at a coffeeshop for the same conversation, let alone trying to have the same conversation in front of a bigger group of people. Some people find it easier to make a generic post to their “followers” instead of sending the same text multiple times or starting a group chat with a restricted number of people, as they never know who might respond.
What Are the Risks Associated with Socializing Online?
- Presenting a false self
- Difficulty engaging in face-to-face interactions
- Problems identifying red flags
- Getting catfished
Social anxiety is often a predictor of internet addiction. Ironically, the more time teens spend worrying about how they are perceived online, the more likely they are to update their newsfeed or check for new notifications. One would think that the anxiety they experience around their social media presence would discourage them from being glued to their screens, but the opposite is usually true. The potential validation they might receive from online interactions often outweighs potential threats or hate messages.
How is Online Socializing Different from Offline Socializing?
- Privacy Issues
- Lack of Nonverbal Cues
- Conversations cannot be permanently deleted
- Hard to fully trust that the other person is being transparent
- People are more likely to perform for an online audience
At a relationship-based residential treatment center for girls, teens learn how to be present with others offline and to interact without the distraction of smartphones. Many teens with social anxiety have developed insecurities in relationships based on past negative experiences with peers at school. In order to change beliefs about not being good enough in relationships, they must confront these beliefs and build evidence that this is not always true.
Teens who had previously turned to the Internet to receive validation learn that they are liked by others when they act like their true selves. During group therapy, teens with social anxiety learn how to actively listen to others, ask for help, and provide mutual support as they discuss their relationship styles and how they developed these beliefs. This can lead to conversations about values in relationships, online safety, and ways to manage anxiety.
Solstice RTC Can Help
Solstice is a groundbreaking residential treatment center for girls, ages 14 to 18. Our girls and assigned female at birth often struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, ADHD, technology addiction, and other emotional or behavioral problems when they come to us. Through a unique combination of therapeutic programs based upon both traditional and holistic mental health treatment, we treat our clients with age and gender-specific techniques. We strive to empower teenage people with the ability to believe in themselves offline and provide the tools and motivation required to instill these beliefs for life.
For more information about smartphone addiction, contact us at 866-278-3345.