Is Social Media Damaging Teenagers Friendships?

It’s a debate as old as social media itself, does the use of social media damage or enhance relationships? Social media and Generation Z often go synonymously together and for all teenagers, social media has existed since before they were alive. Young people have grown up in a world dominated and accelerated by online connection.

Accelerating Communication

Since the beginning of time humans have desired to interact and belong and while this hasn’t changed, the mediums on which we communicate have. Over the past 15 years, digital mediums have increased the accessibility and frequency of our communication.

Moving our communication to an online medium has been the most recent change which has led to a more intrusive and prevalent component in our daily lives. For example, the communication medium has rapidly changed from the invention of the telephone to party lines to Instant Messaging and social networks. These rapidly evolving digital spaces for teenagers have shifted identity formation, social influence and the ability to connect to those around them. So, the question is: does the use of social media as a platform enhance or detract from our ability to connect with others?

Relationships are at the Centre of a Teenagers Wellbeing

There is a large body of science which tells us that relationships are the number one indicator of a teenager’s wellbeing. Relationships amplify their wellbeing. If their relationships are positive and genuine, it’s easier for teenagers to look after other aspects of their wellbeing and feel supported whilst doing so. So, the question becomes: is social media damaging or enhancing teenagers’ relationships with their peers, family and community alike? There is an increasing level of data that suggests frequent social media usage has had a negative correlation with levels of relationship satisfaction (1). Other research data suggests that individuals with multiple social media profiles often suffer from an increased risk of depression (2) (3). There is no doubt that social media has had an impact upon how relationships grow and develop. Our research at Burn Bright shows us that Snapchat is the most popular social media platform, followed by Instagram amongst today’s teenagers and that other social connection apps such as HouseParty (a group teleconferencing app) are on the rise.

In 1938, Harvard University began following 724 participants as part of the longest-running study on human development in history. The study was developed to determine what makes us happy and explored every part of who we are, from physical and psychological traits to social life and IQ, to learn how we can flourish. Findings from the study were published in the 2012 book, “Triumphs of Experience”, with key results showing that happiness and health aren’t a result of wealth, fame or working hard, but come instead from our relationships (4). While online and mobile technologies can provide a means of connecting people and can increase our sense of belonging therefore having a positive impact on our relationships, research suggests that this cannot replace our offline relationships. It is the neurochemical response that occurs during face-to-face interactions that contributes to wellbeing (5).

Comparisons, Comparisons, Comparisons and the 24/7 Bully

The rise of social media platforms especially that focus on photo sharing, are developing an unhealthy level of comparison between the teenagers themselves and others which is leading to unhealthy lens of validation for teenagers. It is a natural part of human behaviour to compare ourselves with the people around us. The introduction of social platforms has increased our ability to compare ourselves to others. The issue is that we are comparing ourselves to a distorted reality. For a young person, comparisons are the thief of joy and when we are comparing ourselves to this photoshopped reality it causes anxiety and a misunderstanding about what living a good life realistically looks like. Encouraging young people to find their validation not through comparison but in healthy places such as through their relationships, a sense of meaning and purpose and their own accomplishment is imperative.

Secondly, with the increase of availability of social media, the ability for young people to be bullied across a range of social media platforms has led to an inability to escape what once was an “at school only” phenomenon. Bullying can be multi-platform and at all hours of the day. This can be so damaging for a young person that it impacts their mental health significantly.

A Positive Approach is Needed — Why Micro Management of Teenagers isn’t the Solution

It’s easy to make a quick decision that the best way to regulate and remove these issues from a young person’s life is for an adult to remove the source of the issue or to heavily regulate it. I think it is important that we follow the old parable “give a man a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed them for a lifetime”. The reality is that no matter what regulation or rules we put around young people, they will find a way to push the boundaries or to still be where their friends are. It’s important that we teach young people the correct character and values to use online. It’s important for them to be aware that the actions and consequences of their digital world and physical flow into all spheres of their lives. Encouraging, teaching, coaching and example setting for a young person needs to be the solution. Taking a positive approach means that we need a focus on how technology can strengthen our relationships and bonds with others whilst also keeping the physical face-to-face relationships. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of putting our phones or devices away and being present in the moment and pay attention to the person in front of us.

This being said, boundary setting and micro-managing are not the same thing and it’s important that schools and parents set strong boundaries that are designed to set the parameters for behaviour enabling a teenager to know where the limit is. One solution at home is a mobile phone contract that sets the boundaries with a young person (which is best set before they even get their first mobile phone). Another solution is to use the built-in settings on the iPhone and Android now that can track and manage screen time, time of day of use and the usage of certain apps. Parents can easily set this up with a pin code to ensure there are strict boundaries in place. In summary, here are a few final points that could be helpful in navigating this conversation with any teenager:

  1. Take a positive approach that empowers a young person to make decisions for themselves.
  2. A face-to-face relationship is important for our wellbeing.
  3. Just like anything in life, it’s about finding a balance.





Continue your student’s leadership or wellbeing journey with our digital programs. Specifically designed to be flexibly implemented into your wellbeing or leadership programs, these courses can be completed at any time in any place, providing a self-paced option for students to explore in class or on their own. These modules include individual student logins, a teacher dashboard to track student progress and lesson plans with follow up face to face resources.

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Facilitator in Laptop Screen

I found Burn Bright in the midst of studying civil engineering at the University of Wollongong, just as I wanted a richer, deeper, more full experience of life.

Through Burn Bright, I have met many students and volunteers who are all seeking to find their place in the world. When we come together at NLC or SLC, no matter our age, we begin on the same page, of wanting to do good for ourselves, our community, and the world. And then we are thrown into a program that brings us closer to each other, our purpose, and how to bring forth this impact. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

Volunteering with Burn Bright stoked a fire in me – It helped me feel comfortable in myself and made me realise life isn’t just about work, study, or productivity, but our relationships and how we connect with others along the way.

I have learned skills in videography, worked for a top-tier corporation in marketing, and most recently published a book called “18 and lost? So were we” 

I have a passion for storytelling, bring loads of energy wherever I go, and am dedicated to helping young people move through the initiation of leaving high school and going into the ‘real world’. 

The best part for me is being able to stay connected to the latest generation growing through high school. To see them grow, expand and express more of themselves is like watching an artwork paint itself. It’s magic.

I am Simon Thurston, a Kiwi based in Perth. I work as an Instructional Designer and in my spare time I enjoy reading, running, and board games.

Since my initial connection to Burn Bright I have been onboard with their mission. Burn Bright’s focus on building the capabilities enables students of all ages to see how they can shape their world through connections with others and their own self discovery.

Seeing others grow, learn, and open up is what keeps me coming back, to help others realise their potential and how they can influence their future and their community is a definite highlight. It’s infectious, the atmosphere when they run a program or camp is welcoming, exciting, emotional, and rewarding all in one.



Hi, friends! I’m Kelsie, a psychologist from central QLD working in private practice. I got involved with Burn Bright officially in 2016, but the journey started long before that. I attended the National Leadership Camp (now hosted annually by Burn Bright) in 2009. It had such a profound impact on me that I returned as a mentor and volunteer. Those connections ultimately lead me to joining the Burn Bright team as an adult.

When I transitioned from facilitating with the Burn Bright team to working as a psychologist, I was so grateful for an incredible foundation of skills (particularly facilitation, communication and interpersonal skills) along with a strong grounding in positive psychology that Burn Bright integrates into their ethos.

I can’t imagine my life without volunteering for Burn Bright. I have met some of my dearest friends through the Burn Bright crew. I’ve found that volunteering for BB is rewarding, humbling, and often brings as much personal growth for the volunteer as it does for the young person.

From a professional perspective, I love that Burn Bright programs/camps support the adolescent individuation process by providing an exciting and supportive environment for teens to explore their own sense of self, personality, identify and values alongside other young people.

Imagine this POV: you’re back at school wanting to figure everything out and fit in – and you find
yourself in a room with amazing music that uplifts you and hooks you in. You meet the team of
dynamic, interesting, caring facilitators whose own friendships inspire you. Their facilitation skills bring about amazing light-bulb moments and lessons that light a fire inside you… It makes me want to feel that for myself again. The next best thing, for me, is volunteering for the team who passes that on to other young people.

My start at Burn Bright is one of the best cases of one door closing and another door opening. After losing my job at a local pub while on uni holidays, I started looking for new opportunities that were different and decided to volunteer. Searching for opportunities, I found working bees, community driving and nursing home visits, but the chance to become a National Leadership Camp intern stood out. Over nearly six months, I worked with the team to pull off Burn Bright’s first National Leadership Camp, and had an absolute blast in the process. After camp, I started working for Burn Bright while studying, doing anything and everything — data analysis, hiring strategy and even picking up furniture.

Finishing up working for Burn Bright in 2019, I am still actively involved with the Burn Bright volunteer community. I’ve found that the emphasis placed on investing in your relationships, understanding your values and making an impact allow you to be accepted for you. This has given me the tools needed to make the difficult decisions that life will inevitably throw at you. Besides all that, I’ve had a ton of fun and formed life-long friendships with people I may have never crossed paths with otherwise. “Get involved — you’ll change your life for the better and make life‑long friends in the process”.

I am a health science student from Perth wanting to get into the mental health realm of occupational therapy. In the meantime, I work as a barista and supervisor at a beachside café. In my spare time, I love to play netball, be around my friends and I have just gotten into crocheting. I went to Perth College where I was lucky enough to go to the first Perth College Leadership Camp in 2018 as a student and absolutely loved it. What really drew me in was the atmosphere that was created, the open conversations, and the lasting relationships formed.

Since then I have been a mentor for the Perth College Leadership Camp in 2019, 2020, and 2021 and had the opportunity to go to the National Leadership Camp in 2019. When Burn Bright comes to Perth I also love helping out at their programs as much as I can.

Volunteering for Burn Bright has given me so much that I could never have imagined. I have learned so much about myself and I have so much more confidence in myself and my abilities that I know I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t exposed to the amazing opportunities volunteering for Burn Bright has given me. Before being involved I would never have seen myself being a mentor, role model, and facilitator to students, but now I can confidently say that I am, and I have made an impact on others that I am proud of. I have also made so many meaningful connections to so many amazing people from all around Australia through Burn Bright. I get asked quite a bit why I keep coming back to my old school to volunteer and it’s simply because I was given this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Burn Bright programs and if I can help facilitate that experience to someone else then why wouldn’t I?

I was born in Perth and moved to Sydney in my early 20’s to continue work as a youth worker and surfboard maker. This was followed by 30 years working in IT as a computer programmer.

Following retirement in 2016 I searched for an organisation that was aligned with my values of servant leadership and service, especially in the youth space. This search led to Burn Bright where I am now volunteering one day a week and mentoring at the National Leadership Camp. Volunteering with Burn Bright gives me a great deal of hope and confidence in the next generation of leaders. It is a pleasure to be a part of the Burn Bright family.

I have been married to Denise for 41 years and we both very much feel part of the Burn Bright team.

When not at Burn Bright you may find me running along Manly beach, riding my mountain bike or indulging in my passion for photography.











Hi! I’m Rosie, a 20-something full-time public servant, part-time Tassie tourism advocate.

I am passionate about seeing young people succeed, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching them become the next generation of change-makers.

I have been a champion of the ethos and work of Burn Bright since its inception in 2014, and consider them to be the leading experts in their field. By delivering impactful leadership and wellbeing programs to students across Australia, they offer the knowledge, skills and engagement to invoke lasting positive change in school communities.

The Burn Bright team are dedicated, inclusive and values-driven, which is why I love working with them.