Social Media w/ Dr. Jacqueline Nesi · ep. 47 · 10 for Teens + Tweens

Dr. Jacqueline Nesi smiles while standing on a brick city sidewalk.

Our special guest today is a psychologist and expert on how social media impacts teens and tweens. Please welcome Dr. Jacquline Nesi. 

DR. NESI: Thanks so much for having me.

Thank you so much for being on the show now. First could you share a bit about who you are and what you do and what you’re known for?

DR. NESI: Of course. Yeah. So I am a clinical psychologist which means that I am a therapist. I work with families and with teens, and I’m also a researcher and a professor at Brown University. And I study the impact of social media on people’s mental health. 

Honestly, this is all like, so fascinating to me.

DR. NESI: It’s a really interesting topic and it’s especially interesting cuz it keeps changing so quickly. As you can imagine, social media changes so much, just even day to day that it makes it a super interesting thing to, to learn about.

Social Media Red Flags

Oh yeah. It seems like  every week there’s new research about the impact of social media on teens and tweens, and so I’m wondering from your research, what are the biggest issues or red flags? 

DR. NESI: Yeah. So I think when we think about the effects of social media on us and on our mental health and functioning, we can think about three different areas. So one is what we’re doing with social media, one is who we are generally, and the last thing is what else we could be doing instead with the time we’re spending on social media.

So when we think about what we’re doing on social media, I think there’s a few things that, you know, we wanna be careful about. When we think about the negative impacts, So we wanna be careful about content that makes us feel bad about ourselves. And that can come up a lot. You know, if you’re scrolling through TikTok or an Instagram feed and you’re seeing all these other people’s sort of highlights and things that are going really well for them, sometimes that can make us not feel so great and it’s important to be aware of that. Other things would be like drama that comes up on social media and even bullying or cyber bullying. That’s something we need to be careful about. Content that’s really just negative or, or harmful, even content that maybe is you know, racist or sexist or that kind of thing, that can be obviously very harmful as well.

And then another thing to be aware of is just misinformation. So there’s so much information out there on social media and that’s an amazing thing, but we also just need to be careful sometimes  of how accurate that information is. So those are things I’d say to be careful about in terms of what we’re doing on social media.

And then there’s some other things to be aware of are, you know, who we are before we start using social media. So each of us is really different when it comes to the way we use it and the way we react to it. And it’s important to just know yourself and to check in with yourself when you’re using.

Social media, you know, before, during, and after to see how you feel, see what’s working for you and what’s not working for you, and try to figure out ways to use it that feel good to you. And then the last thing is what else we could be doing? And this is really important to consider too, because if our social media use is starting to get in the way of things like sleep or time we could be spending in person with friends or family, those are also times that social media might start to have a more negative impact. So paying attention to how much we’re using it and what times of day is also really important.

A tween or teen girl in a light blue tank dress looks at a phone  while surrounded by doodles depicting social media content and pressures.

Impact on Girls, Tweens + Teens

Okay, I’m gonna have to bullet point these things. They are incredibly helpful and honestly, it encompasses media literacy in the digital sense. Now, I’m curious if data has shown a difference between social media’s effects on girls versus boys.

DR. NESI: Yeah, it’s a good question. And I’ll say on this, the data is a little bit mixed, so we don’t really have a clear answer on it. There are some studies that would show that certain aspects of social media may be a bit more problematic for girls,  compared to boys. So for example, girls often learn from society around them that their appearance is very important.

I think that happens more for girls than it does for boys. And so on social media, some of those messages can be coming through even more strongly and maybe have a more negative impact on girls’ body image than it would for boys.  It does vary a little, so  We’re not totally sure that that’s the case, and it’s probably more important to be thinking about you personally, like how you use social media and how you respond to it. And if you feel like it’s having, say, a negative impact on your body image, then that’s something  to be aware of.

Oh, that’s interesting. What about a difference in age groups?   We know that there are some tweens that are using social media.

DR. NESI: So legally,  to sign up for any of the big social media sites like Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok. You are supposed to be 13, but we do know that people younger than that are sometimes using the platforms. Again, the research here is not definitive, but there’s some evidence that yes, for younger more like tweens and younger teens that that’s a really important and maybe sensitive time for using social media, meaning that the effects may be a bit more negative during that time period. And we don’t know exactly why that might be, but I think for those age groups, we wanna be especially careful about how we’re using social media and what we’re doing on there.

Is there a best/worst app?

Okay. I’ve been asked this question a few times, so I wanna get your take. A few girls have asked, Are certain social media platforms better or worse than others? And I’m wondering if that’s like a loaded question because it also depends on the user and what they’re doing.

DR. NESI: Yes. It’s such a good question. I get this one a lot too. And there is not any research that I know of that suggests a certain platform is any better or worse than another. But I will say, you know, We know that people use platforms in different ways. You know, like any teen who uses TikTok versus Instagram knows that the experience is very different across the two of them.

And so my friend and colleague, Emily Weinstein likes to say that social media is an amplifier. And so what gets amplified is different for different people and on different platforms. So for example, we talked a little bit about body image and we know that on Instagram a lot of what you tend to see is the sort of highlight reels.

So posts, maybe more curated kind of photos, a lot of fashion. And for some people, especially those people who know that they might already be kind of sensitive to comparing themselves to other people or really focusing on, on appearance that that might amplify that concern for them when they use Instagram.

And, but of course there’s different things like that that happen across all the different. Platforms. And so it’s just important to know, I think for you, what you think is helpful and harmful and to test it out with different platforms. What’s making you feel good and what’s making you not feel as good?

When it comes to TikTok, I’ll say the thing I hear most about TikTok is that it can be the hardest one to put down. The TikTok algorithm is really really powerful and is really good at hooking us and keeping us using TikTok for longer periods than we intended. So if you know that you’re maybe prone to do a little bit of that and maybe procrastinate or waste some time on there, then that, that’s something definitely to be aware of cuz it can be a real issue for a lot of people.

How to make social media more helpful

Interesting. So a lot of people are saying, Oh, social media is dangerous for youth. Like, just don’t do it. And I, I don’t disagree that it can be. Obviously. But I’m wondering like, okay, if you think about it, cars can also be dangerous depending on how people use them. And when they were invented, it’s not like they were these safety capsules that they are now, but it took some unfortunate things happening for them to be like, Oh, we should probably fix this. We should put these certain things in place. And so with that mentality, do you think that can apply to social media? Is there any way for it to be less harmful? Both through functionality of the app itself and also through the use of the user.

DR. NESI: Yeah, definitely. I think that the analogy to cars is perfect because I think it just fits in a lot of different ways and I think so often we hear and talk about the harms and potential dangers of social media, and I think those things are very real. But there are obviously a lot of benefits to social media too.

I think we wouldn’t all be using social media and enjoying it in a lot of ways if there weren’t benefits to it. So, you know, when I think about mental health and social media, I think about the fact that we see less stigma around a lot of different mental health conditions and we see a lot of information and resources about mental health coming out through social media that wouldn’t have otherwise. And so I think there really are benefits and, and we need to weigh those when we think about the potential risks as well. I do think that just like with cars there are ways that we can make social media safer and better. Some of that is gonna come just from the design of the platform. So just like cars have added airbags, there are things I think the platforms can do to make them better for for users and particularly younger users. One specific example I’ll say there is that I think that platforms could be more personalized so they could allow you to make more choices around the types of content you see the ways you interact with the app rather than having everything presented to us in sort of a default way. I think letting people have more active choice would make a big difference.

I also think there’s stuff we can do with education when it comes to social media. You know, with cars, we have to get a driver’s license before we can drive a car. There’s certainly some education I think that could and should probably happen before we have access to social media. And then of course, like the user themselves when we’re using social media, as we’ve talked about, thinking about how to use it in ways that that works for us, that that feels healthy, that you know, fits into our day to day without interfering with the rest of our lives. I think all of those things are really important to consider, too.

You are not alone

Oh, I really appreciate you sharing that. Those are some really good points. So if anyone from any apps are listening, take note. So before we wrap up, I wanna ask, and this could be any topic, what do you think is the most important thing that you want girls listening to know?

DR. NESI: I would say the biggest thing I would say to teen girls is that whatever you are experiencing, you are not alone in that. I think that being a teen is just a really challenging period of time for so many reasons, and especially teenagers today I think are going through so much.

And so often I think it’s easy to feel isolated in that, like, to feel like you’re the only one who’s going through the things that you’re going through. But I would just assure teen girls that, that so many people have gone through so many of the same challenges. And it’s important to reach out for support from friends and family and other people cuz I’m, I’m sure that other people have gone through some of the same things too.

Well said. This has been, honestly, such a pleasure to speak with you. Before we go, I definitely want you to share where people can find you and learn more from you and connect with you even. So where can they go?

DR. NESI: Yes. The easiest place to reach me is my, is my website JacquelineNesi.com. And then the other best place to reach me is my newsletter. So I write a weekly newsletter about technology and psychology. And it’s called Techno Sapiens. So if you Google you can find it. And then I’m also on Instagram @Jacqueline_Nesi.

Fantastic. Oh, this has been so helpful, so informative. I really appreciate you talking with me and talking with the girls and hopefully like even just one of those tools will really make a difference in your social media experience, gals.Thank you so much for being here and being on the show. This has been wonderful.

DR. NESI: Thank you so much for having me, Stephanie. I appreciate it.

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