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Growing Up Online

Social media - Facts for youth

What is social media?

Social media lets you share ideas, photos, videos, messages, or emails in an online group or community. It also allows you to connect with friends, people you work with, and meet others online.

You can access social media applications (apps) and websites with smart phones, tablets, laptops, and computers.

The terms social networking and social media are often used in place of each other.

  • Social networking focuses on creating and keeping online relationships.
  • Social media is the digital technology used to get or send information. 

Here, we’ll refer to social media as the online connections or relationships created between groups or individuals.​

How much do youth use social media and what sites do they use?

By 2023, there will be more than 32 million users of social media apps and sites in Canada. Since 2012, the number of teens using social networking apps and sites has doubled, and almost half of all teens are on social media most hours of the day.

The social media sites young people spend the most time on are:

  • Reddit
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Snapchat
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook

When should you worry about your social media use?

Social media can be a fun way to stay connected with your friends. But it can also cause harm if you use it too much and if you aren’t careful. Setting limits and having a plan to be safe will help you keep it a fun activity.

Social media can become a problem when it harms your mental or physical health, or has unwanted effects on your day-to-day life.

You may have a higher risk of problems with social media if you:

  • are young and single
  • have relationship problems with your family or friends
  • have a mental health issue (such as anxiety or depression – This can make you more likely to be affected by what you see on social media.)

If you use social media too much, you may:

  • spend less time with your family and friends, leading to relationship problems
  • lose interest in things you used to enjoy
  • feel isolated
  • have trouble sleeping
  • not feel like being active
  • have more trouble at school
  • be exposed to cyberbullying, disturbing content, and unwanted sexual images and messages
  • spend more time comparing yourself to others
Too much time on social media can change how you see yourself. You may spend more time comparing yourself to others, and begin to have a negative body image.

Don’t ignore these early signs that social media is becoming a problem. If you’re finding it hard to cut down on the time you spend on social media, ask for help.

To cut down on the time you spend on social media, you can also:

  • get more involved in family activities
  • get together with friends or make new friends
  • get involved in activities at school and in your community
  • talk to an adult you trust about ways to cut down

Take steps to stay safe online

It’s important to be careful and know which websites are safe for you to visit. Some websites have harmful content or advice.

When you use a social media site, ask yourself:

  • Does this app add value and meaning to my daily activities or does it just distract me?
  • Does this app or site use my personal information in ways I’m not comfortable with?
  • Does this site suggest I do something that may hurt me or someone else (physically or mentally)?
Find the good and helpful benefits of using social media. This will also help you to stay safe.

Always think twice before you post anything online. Remember that anything you post can “go viral” or spread quickly online. It also never goes away. So when you apply for a job, college, or scholarships, people may look at your social media profile and judge you based on what you posted.

Set up healthy activities with your family and friends. This can include physical activity, hobbies and games, and other activities you enjoy.

Set limits for how much time you spend on social media. Think about spending less time on social media if you answer yes to any of these questions:

  • Are you falling behind on your homework?
  • Are you missing sports?
  • Are you often late for work or miss work?

Ask for advice from your parents, your counselor, or any adult you trust if:

  • you feel uncomfortable with an app or website
  • someone asks you to do something that doesn’t seem right or makes you uncomfortable

For help and support, call the Alberta Health Services Youth Addiction Services at 1-866-332-2322 (toll free in Alberta).


You might be thinking:

Remember that:

“Everyone is on social media, I’ll miss out if I have to stop!”

Using social networking sites and social media isn’t a bad thing. But it’s important that you use it safely and it doesn’t get in the way of homework, activities, relationships, or family time.

“It is not my parent’s business who I talk to or what I post.”

You’re right that everyone has a right to privacy. It is your parent’s responsibility to keep you safe and protect you from harm. Have a talk with them or a trusted adult about how to stay safe online. You can also talk to them about what can happen when you post something for others to see online.

“Why do I have to cut back my social media use at all?”

Sometimes good things can start to become a problem. If you find yourself on social media a lot or miss out on real-life activities, this could be a warning sign that you’re becoming addicted to social media.

See the Resources section for more information.

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