Digital Dilemma: Teen Decision Making

Alexis Younes
December 8, 2023
May 14, 2024
min read

Let’s face it, not many teens have the privilege of making many decisions for themselves. Many decisions are made for them by parents, teachers, and other adults in their life, leaving them with little independence to make their own life choices. Think back to your teenage years and the fight for your independence, it’s one of the things many teens have a similar experience with: too young to be treated as a child but not old enough to be looked at as an adult. There’s a good reason for this too. Our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain we use to make logical, rational decisions and problem solve, is actually one of the last regions of our brain to fully develop at 25 years of age; whereas the first region of our brain to first develop is the amygdala or our “emotional brain”. Due to this, teens are subject to making irrational and/or risky decisions, will act before they think about the consequences, and react emotionally rather than rationally.

Now pair a teen’s developing brain with a more prominent use of our “emotional brain” when scrolling and posting on social media. Social media allows teens to make decisions for themselves on what they post, like, and comment. It gives them a space to freely express themselves and interact with others their age. It can either build your self-esteem and promote good relationships and choices, or do the complete opposite. As a mental health therapist here at Bloom, this is not an uncommon topic that we see clients walk in with. Parents are concerned about their teen’s phone and social media usage while some teen’s don’t see the problem with it. We explore the impact from both perspectives while discussing ways to enhance our lives outside of technology and learn how to make healthier decisions.

First, we need to take a glimpse into understanding how social media influences decision making: 
  • Peer Influence: Teens place their friends on a pedestal above their family at this stage of life, so it only makes sense that they have sway in their influence as well. Peer pressure is definitely a thing, and don’t let others tell you differently. I’ve had teen clients come in and share how they’ve been able to overcome that pressure and stick to their guns, but that’s not the case for everyone. Your friends may have you post something you didn’t want to, or like/comment on someone’s post that you didn’t necessarily agree with. Check with yourself if this is something you want for yourself or if a friend is influencing you to do.
  • Instant validation/gratification: We’ve all felt this before whether it was shopping or posting online to see how many likes and comments we get. It feels amazing at the moment, but once those followers stop engaging with you, that’s when you start to crave that feeling even more. So what do you do? You make another post. There’s something about the attention from others that gives you 
  • Identity: Utilizing social media can be a great way to express yourself in a creative way. Looking at one’s profile, posts, or comments can really show others who you are as a person. Sometimes, teens feel that they have more courage to say things online rather than in person, or show a different side of themselves, gaining more confidence and/or self-esteem.

This next section is for parents: you might be asking yourself, what control do I have in this? How can I help my teen make better choices while allowing them the autonomy to utilize social media? 
  • Education! I know teens don’t want to learn anymore than they have to when their main job is to go to school Monday to Friday. Provide them with digestible media that’s easily understandable on topics such as what’s real and what isn’t, maintaining confidentiality towards people you do not know, how to be safe online while enjoying yourself, and how to be respectful online without giving out hate. There is so much to learn, why have them learn the hard way?
  • Coping or enjoying? Have you noticed your teen endlessly scrolling on their phone, avoiding life? Check in with them to see if they are using this as a way to escape or if they’re enjoying themselves. If they are coping, have an honest conversation about what’s going on with them and find other coping strategies to try.
  • Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! Talk with your teen about setting healthy boundaries when it comes to using social media. Come to an agreement on what is and isn’t allowed, such as screen time, what’s okay to post, who to interact with, etc.
  • Provide guidance while allowing autonomy. Most teen’s want freedom to make their own choices. What do they do when you tell them to do something? They’ll most likely do the opposite. GIve them the space to make their own decisions while gently guiding them. Be their support, not their enemy. Share personal experiences or help them see how certain choices can lead to negative consequences, while being there for them to help solve any issues they may be facing.
  • Use that critical brain of yours! Instead of telling your teen what to do, ask them how they would handle that situation. That not only gives you insight on what their thought process and decision making looks like, but it gives them the freedom and platform to share with you their thoughts. Encourage them to challenge what they see, to not conform to what everyone else is doing or posting, and promote their creativity.

Don’t make your teen feel bad for the decisions they make, it’s not their fault their brains aren’t totally formed yet. Encourage them to learn more about their development and foster an environment where they can talk to you about these things. As a parent, teacher, educator, etc., educate yourselves on the challenges of social media and healthy ways to understand where your teen is at, while empowering them to embrace their autonomy, confidence, and creativity.

Take The First Step

Call or Text for a complimentary 15-minute consultation!
Let us help you plant the seeds of change and nurture them until you, and those you love, bloom in your full potential.

By clicking Sign Up you're confirming that you agree with our Terms and Conditions.
Thank you!
You should get a confirmation email shortly!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Please check you've filled it in correctly.