Meghan Cain, Staff
Social media has become a dominating force in our society and is being introduced at increasingly younger ages. Knowing the influence that social media has over its users, it is no surprise to me that overuse of social media was rated number one on the 2020 Top 10 Child Health Concerns During the Pandemic List. Especially following the pandemic, which allowed for an overwhelming amount of free time for a lot of kids and adolescents, social media use is continuously growing.
In my opinion, the most harmful aspect of social media is its effects on the mental health of kids and adolescents, negatively affecting their confidence. I am currently working on an independent research study seeking to find the correlation between social media use and adolescent girls’ body dissatisfaction, social comparison and internalization of the thin ideal. The findings have shown so far that there is a positive correlation between social media use and negative self-feelings, which is worrisome considering the age at which social media is being introduced nowadays.
Social media robs children of their youth, and for adolescents, who are already experiencing a confusing period in their lives due to puberty, social media increases exposure to unrealistic idealized bodies and pressures them to change their appearances. A previous study of social media use and adolescent body image has found that “time spent using social media… is associated with greater preoccupation with how the body looks, which is, in turn, associated with more negative feelings about the body.” This finding supports the idea that social media has a negative influence on youth and their self-satisfaction, which is critical during such a vulnerable stage in their life.
While there are many arguments against social media that expose the harms associated with it, there are also positives that come from social media, which leads this to be a controversial topic. One study that I have found supports social media in stating that it has “been used by adolescents to increase social connectivity, broaden social relationships and for entertainment… social media is a potentially inexpensive way to have conversations about mental health, important information and challenge stigma… to promote help-seeking for mental health difficulties.” There are clearly benefits of social media as it increases access to mental health awareness and information on coping, as well as increasing socialization and maintaining friendships. Through the interviews with young users in this same study, it was found that social media can be a way to promote mental health, but also to decrease it. Adolescent users had stated that “social media can fuel cyber-bullying and that could lead to problems like suicide, anger and depression.”
This theme leads me to a second study which found that “adolescents who spent more time on screen activities were significantly more likely to have high depressive symptoms or have at least one suicide-related outcome.” Additionally, electronic device use was significantly correlated to all four suicide-related outcomes, which are feeling sad or hopeless, seriously considering suicide, making a suicide plan and attempting suicide. There is an abundance of information that supports either side of the social media argument, which leads to a bit of controversy.
Social media is such a common aspect of our everyday lives that youths being on electronics or social media is normalized overall — a community-based issue, as social media has become ingrained into our society and would be difficult to remove.
As far as addressing this issue goes, spreading awareness of the harms of social media may provide some benefits. In terms of solving the issue, I do not think that much can be done on an individual level to decrease the detrimental effects of social media as a whole, but steps can be taken to ensure that one is using social media in healthy ways, as well as monitoring children and adolescents’ use. To solve the issue from the root, social media should not be introduced at elementary age, and when it is introduced it should be monitored. In other ways, the issue can to be addressed by the platforms’ corporations. One great strategy that I have seen in the news recently is actually from Facebook. The corporation is introducing features that promote wellbeing on the Instagram app, which is a branch of Facebook, such as prompting young users to take breaks. Another feature will be to “nudge” young users when they are looking at photos that may harm their well-being. There will also be optional parental controls that allow guardians to supervise what their children are doing online, which may be a bit controversial. In my opinion, these controls can be a great way to promote healthy social media use, but it also depends on what exactly the guardians will be able to see. The best way to monitor would be to make sure the children are not spending too much time on social media, and putting parental control locks on certain media to ensure they aren’t being exposed to harmful content.
In conclusion, social media use amongst our youth is an issue that I find to be important, and is one that I feel is only just beginning to gain traction. While we are slowly making advances in the promotion of healthy media use, we have a long way to go as a society. There are numerous arguments regarding the negative impacts of social media use on youth, but there are many to support it as well, so this issue must continue to be explored. I am trying to do my part in addressing the issue by conducting my independent study, and hope to use the results to make an impact.