Media & Teens: An Encouragement for Parental Guidance

By Sammie Gallo, Creator of Abundant Life You Were Made for More

Every generation has its moral debacle, and for Gen Z — teenagers today — it is, undoubtedly, social media.

The effects of social media are daunting, and the evidence hasn’t even fully come to fruition because of the timeline yet. There’s a limited evidence base. I’m 28 years old, graduated high school in 2013, and social media was just really becoming popular when I graduated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I would never, ever want to go back and repeat high school with the pressures that social media puts on teens today. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that teen depression, anxiety, and suicidality have steadily risen for the past decade, especially among girls. Ninety-five percent of teens have access to a smartphone, and nearly half self-report using it “almost constantly.” Experts are split on whether B is causing A; the data are inconclusive, but even the possibility of a link is more than concerning for most parents. In 2022 the U.S. Surgeon General came out with an advisory on social media and youth mental health that called for caution pending more research.

Why are girls at particular risk? Well, think about it – not only are they being inundated with the “perfect image” by influencers on Instagram and TikTok, but they also can never escape it. It’s at their fingertips at all times… the reminder of all of their insecurities is literally inescapable. I’ve struggled with extreme insecurities, have been the subject of bullying, and have worked hard as an adult to escape lies that I came to believe about myself as a teen; I can’t imagine not being able to escape the voices and lies that still to this day can have a grip on me if I’m not intentional about speaking them out of my inner headspace.

The effect of the COVID pandemic in itself was insanely unhealthy and the anxiety rate reflected it. According to CDC data, almost two-thirds of teenage girls in particular experienced deep periods of loneliness and unhappiness in 2021 and one-third actually contemplated suicide as emergency room visits for mental health reasons among teens rose. 

“The adolescent brain is kind of like a car that — when it comes to the desire for social feedback — has a hypersensitive gas pedal, with relatively low-functioning brakes,” said Dr. Prinstein, who testified before the Senate on the subject earlier this year. “The brain’s inhibition center that says, ‘Maybe don’t follow every single drive and instinct you have’” isn’t fully developed, he said. 

As a parent, that’s what you have to remember. It doesn’t really matter what intentions your teen has – in a way, they genuinely don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know that those controls aren’t there because they’ve never had them, and that’s why it is so important that we step into their lives and speak into what they’re dealing with in an effort to shepard and protect who they were made to be. 

“So your hope as a parent is not found in your power, your wisdom, your character, your experience, or your success, but in this one thing alone: the presence of your Lord. The Creator, Savior, Almighty, Sovereign King is with you. Let your heart rest. You are not in this parenting drama alone. Your potential is greater than the size of your weaknesses, because the One who is without weakness is with you, and he does his best work through those who admit that they are weak but in weakness still heed his call.”

Paul David Tripp, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family

Sammie graduated from Robert Morris University in 2017 with a background in biology and psychology and started working with Anglicans for Life (AFL) in 2017. In addition to her work with AFL, she spent 3 years going into public schools with the Women’s Choice Network, speaking to high schoolers about healthy relationships and sex education. She has a passion for making sure every teenager, parent, and youth leader is equipped, engaged, and encouraged to have Gospel-centered conversations regarding relationships, sexuality, and life issues.

Sammie married her best friend, Juan Gallo, in May 2019. During her free time, she and her husband invest in teenagers and young adults in their community, disciple their two kids, Ofie and Leo, and Sammie recently began a new career path as a registered nurse in emergency medicine.