Liddle | 38-44

Positive Approaches Journal - Volume 2 Title

Volume 12 ► Issue 3 ► November 2023

Suicide, Self-Harm & Risk-Taking: The Tragic Dangers that Social Media Poses to Children

Angela Liddle


Since the introduction of MySpace in the late 1990s, social media has become an integral part of our lives.  This is especially true for today’s children and teens, who spend many hours per day on social media platforms.  Studies show that this constant usage is impacting children’s mental health, and this can lead to tragic, sometimes fatal, consequences for families.  This article from Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) discusses what parents and families can do to ensure their children remain safe, healthy, and protected in this digital era.


At age 16, Chase Nasca seemed to have it all. The Long Island, New York teenager was “handsome, athletic, smart and funny,” according to his family.  Chase’s promising life was cut short on February 18, 2022, when the teen took his own life.  After his death, Chase’s family discovered that his TikTok feed was filled with thousands of unsolicited videos that showed violence, suicide, and self-harm.1

Social media has become an integral part of all our lives but has been particularly adopted by our children and youth.  Tweens aged 8 to 12 average four or more hours per day and teens aged 13 to 18 spend more than eight hours per day on their screens and devices, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused kids to turn to their screens to connect with friends or entertainment.2  Policymakers at the state and federal levels have proposed bans and restrictions on social media platforms, namely TikTok, in the interests of national security and protecting our children.

Legislation alone, however, is not enough to protect our kids.  Parents and families must be equipped with the resources and tools to strengthen them to raise healthy children in a digital era. Social competence, after all, is a much better form of safety than avoidance.

 Social Media and Mental Health

Excessive use of social media platforms can have very negative impacts, particularly on children and youth. But just as the impacts are important to understand, so are the reasons for why such a large portion of youth use social media excessively. For example, “dark patterns” help to explain some of the reasons why youth seem to have trouble putting down their device and staying off social media platforms.  Dark patterns are user interfaces whose designers knowingly confuse users, make it difficult for users to express their actual preferences, or manipulate users into taking certain actions.3  The main areas where dark patterns are prevalent are social media, games, and ecommerce.4  Examples of dark patterns on social media platforms include infinite scrolling, autoplay features, and pull-to-refresh.5  These intentional designs enhance user engagement and begin to interfere with or even impair user autonomy, leading to excessive use.

Social media platforms use several factors to decide what content to serve a user.  In TikTok’s case, it considers, among other attributes, how users interact with the app, such as which accounts they follow, comments they post, and videos they’ve liked or shared; the ads a user looks at; and the types of videos that a user creates.6  Accidentally clicking the wrong ad or viewing an inappropriate video can have severe consequences, such as contributing to depression and anxiety in teens, or memory loss.7  “For teens and children, the TikTok algorithm may be too effective,” noted a June 2023 article from Discover Magazine.8  “Reading a teen's innermost thoughts — especially when their vulnerable minds are drawn to harmful content — can lead them to see more problematic content.”

 Family Digital Wellness

Social media use by teens has increased, and continues to increase, year after year.  In fact, the share of teens who say they are online almost constantly has roughly doubled since 2014-15 (46% now and 24% then).  When asked about the amount of time they spend on social media, just 8% of teens think they spend too little time on these platforms.9 This is why family digital wellness matters.

Between the ever-increasing access to technology-enabled devices and the lagging behind-nature of research, it is imperative that we begin to equip families—children and caregivers—with the necessary education and training to become competent in building safe and healthy interactions with technology.  Every phase is important, from basic safeguards against potential harm, to understanding how our daily behaviors impact our overall well-being.  Families in today’s digital era should focus on collective awareness, resilience, and competence—not avoidance—as the best way to keep kids safe online.

 Case Study: PFSA Family Digital Wellness

PFSA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to child abuse and neglect prevention through education, training, and programming services.  Knowing that lawmakers were floating bans and prohibitions, and seeing studies that showed the dangers of social media, we felt it was imperative to equip parents and families to recognize warning signs of digital threats, while learning how to create a foundation for safe, healthy relationships, and interactions with digital technologies.

To that end, we launched in 2022 the Family Digital Wellness initiative, an inclusive, supportive, and preventative approach aimed to strengthen families in raising healthy children in a digital era.  The Family Digital Wellness hub on our website includes several resources to help parents and families, including a Parent Toolkit that features easy-to-implement solutions for families; practical guides and informational packets to help parents and families navigate the social media age; and up-to-date news and media stories regarding social media trends, policy updates, and examples of digital threats.


-       Do not punish your children for using social media or threaten to take away their devices and screens.  This will only help to make social media more attractive to them, especially teenagers.

-      Learn to recognize common digital dangers, such as your child being secretive or anxious about their phone; or they become sad, upset, or angry when using their device.

-       Monitor your child’s general mood changes and behaviors for signs of increased anxiety or depression.

-       Become involved in the apps and games your child uses or has an interest in.

-        Remind your child that you are a support and, at any point in a difficult situation, they can come to you without worrying about getting into trouble.

-       Teach your child to assume everything they post online is public and teach them not to say anything online that they wouldn’t say in real life.

-        Help your child create and protect passwords, making them hard for others to guess.

-       Encourage your child to tell an adult if they encounter anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable or that they think is inappropriate.

-       Make a habit of regularly checking your child’s privacy and filter settings in social media apps.

-       Show your child how image filters can distort the reality of photos we see online and on social media.


Social media is here to stay.  It is incumbent upon us as parents and guardians to help our children foster safe, healthy behaviors when they use these technologies.  By doing so, we can make sure the next generation is better equipped for the good, and the bad, that comes with the use of social media.  The mental health of our children and youth depends on it.


1.     Carville O. Bloomberg - TikTok’s Algorithm Keeps Pushing Suicide to Vulnerable Kids. Published April 20, 2023. TikTok’s Algorithm Keeps Pushing Suicide to Vulnerable Kids.  

2.     Moyer MW. Kids as Young as 8 Are Using Social Media More Than Ever, Study Finds. The New York Times. Kids as Young as 8 Are Using Social Media More Than Ever Study. Published March 24, 2022.

3.     ‌Luguri J, Strahilevitz L. Shining a Light on Dark Patterns. SSRN Electronic Journal. 2019;13(1). doi:

4.     ‌Karagoel I, Nathan-Roberts D. Dark Patterns: Social Media, Gaming, and E-Commerce. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. 2021;65(1):752-756. doi:

5.     ‌Monge Roffarello A, De Russis L. Towards Understanding the Dark Patterns That Steal Our Attention. CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts. Published online April 27, 2022. doi:

6.     ‌Newberry C. How the TikTok Algorithm Works in 2020 (and How to Work With It). Social Media Marketing & Management Dashboard. Published February 8, 2023. 2023 TikTok Algorithm Explained and Tips to Go Viral.

7.     ‌Sha P, Dong X. Research on Adolescents Regarding the Indirect Effect of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress between TikTok Use Disorder and Memory Loss. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18(16):8820. doi:

8.     ‌Novak S. TikTok’s Algorithm and How It Affects Your Viewing Experience. Discover Magazine. 2023 TikTok Algorithm Explained + Tips to Go Viral. Published June 12, 2023.

 9.    Vogels EA, Gelles-Watnick R, Massarat N. Teens, social media and technology 2022. PEW Research Center. Published August 10, 2022. Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022.


Angela Liddle has held the role of President and CEO of Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance for more than 25 years.  She is responsible for the daily administration of the organization and ensures the organization provides an array of quality-driven program services for the prevention of child abuse statewide.  She serves as the spokesperson for the news media and is directly involved in the organization’s interaction with state-level public policymakers, Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, public and private funders, and stakeholders.  Angela was selected by Gov. Tom Corbett to serve on the Children’s Trust Fund governing board of directors, where she served as vice president for more than twelve years.  She currently serves as an officer on the national board for the Children’s Trust Fund Alliance.

Contact Information

Angela Liddle, Pa Family Support Alliance

2000 Linglestown Road, Suite 301

Harrisburg, PA 17110

(717) 238-0937