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Social Media’s Effects on Adolescent’s Wellbeing

Published on December 14th, 2019 at 01:08 am

By Charlotte Osterman

Cellphones and social media accounts have become ubiquitous among American teenagers. When Facebook was created and released for public use in 2004, social media quickly became a global phenomenon. Soon Twitter, founded in 2006, and Instagram, founded in 2010, gained massive popularity. Teenagers have taken advantage of the new social platforms and they have become some of their main forms of communication. According to the Pew Internet Research Center Report “Teens, Technology and Friendships” about “79% of all teens communicate through instant messaging” and “72% communicate and spend time with friends through social media” (Lenhart). The replacement of traditional methods of communication and relationships by the growing epidemic of social media and internet usage is reshaping the intricacies of society and the methods of human interaction. Since social media is a relatively new reality, there are conflicting opinions about what the effect of immersion in a virtual world will have on current and future generations. Some may argue that social media is a useful technological application that is expanding interactions of people across the world, introducing teens to new cultures and experiences they normally would not have access to. Supporters of social media also say that it serves as a creative outlet and space for teens to share their passions and ideas in a time filled with angst and uncertainty. However, there are serious ramifications that outweigh these sparse benefits. A decrease in social media usage should be encouraged by parents, schools and authority figures because social media has a negative impact on mental health, creates unfavorable social environments and decreases academic performance. Society needs to respond accordingly to this issue as social media is detrimental to teenagers and can have a negative impact on every facet of a teen’s life.

Social media plays a significant role in most teenagers’ lives and as a result has the ability to impact a critical aspect of teenagers: mental health. Mounting piles of scientific evidence have identified the correlation between social media and increasing mental health problems in teenagers. Teenagers are especially susceptible to mental health risks as they undergo significant developmental changes. “Less in-Person Interaction with Peers among U.S. Adolescents in the 21st Century and Links to Loneliness” a survey conducted by The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal, reported “Persistent very frequent social media…predicted lower wellbeing among girls” (Viner, Russell et al. 685). The report concluded that frequent and consistent use of social media was connected with lower life satisfaction and happiness as well as an upsurge in anxiety among girls. The study showed a disparity between depression and anxiety rates in those who regularly used social media and those who did not. This depicts a clear trend of an increase in mental health problems in social media users. Experts contribute the uptick in depression and activity in social media users to several factors that would lead to a decline in overall mental health. RG Steele, JA Hall, and JL Christofferson, clinicians who published “Conceptualizing Digital Stress in Adolescents and Young Adults: Towards the Development of an Empirically Based Model” in Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, concluded their paper by saying, “Our review of the literature suggests four potentially related components of digital stress, including availability stress, approval anxiety, fear of missing out, and communication overload” (Steele, RG et al.). The researchers believe factors like availability stress, which is the feeling that it is impossible to take a break, and the need for approval among peers can contribute to depression and anxiety. Typically, teenagers feel some of these things at school, but they are then able to go home and disconnect from their peers. Social media does not give teenagers that option anymore; teens are now subjected to constant influxes of information. Social media instantly notifies them about a party that is going on that they may not have been invited to or immediate feedback on something they posted. The digital world never shuts off and the sensory and emotional overload has a significant effect on an adolescent’s mental health. The Pew Research Center report found that “21% of teen social media users report feeling worse about their own life because of what they see from other friends on social media” (Lenhart). Teens are able to curate and edit their feeds to present what they believe to be the “perfect” life. This depicts an inaccurate representation to the viewers whose lives look nothing like the posted pictures. Humans have also always been communal beings who feel supported if they know others are facing the same challenges they are. Teens who are surrounded by unrealistic, curated lives may feel lonely and depressed because their life is nothing like the one portrayed. Most teens share the similar obstacles of navigating the transition to adulthood and it is challenging to feel a sense of community when their peers do not depict their authentic lives. This explains why researcher Jean Twenge and other contributors in the scientific article “Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents after 200 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time” in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that “Adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues…Since 2010, iGen adolescents have spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on nonscreen activities, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide” (Twenge, Jean et al. 1892). It is logical, based on all of these findings, to conclude that there is a clear relationship between social media and an impacted mental health. Why does it make sense to use a platform that has clear implications for teen mental health and has no real benefit? The facts are clear; the outcomes are obvious. Why are teens still using a platform that negatively impacts their psychological wellbeing?

Social media also has negative consequences concerning social interactions online and in the real world as social skills are declining and cruel teens have the ability to hide behind computer screens allowing them to be cyberbullies. Teens now rely on online platforms to fulfill their social needs instead of socializing with other teens in the real world. In academic journal Clinical Psychological Science, Jean Twenge and other researchers in their study “Less in-person social interactions with peers among U.S. adolescents in the 21st century and links to loneliness” found “College bound high school seniors in 2016 (vs. the late 1980s) spent an hour less a day engaging in in-person interaction, despite declines in paid work and little change in homework or extracurricular activity time” (Twenge, Jean et al. 3). Instead of spending time going to parties, going to movies or simply hanging out, teens revert to the comfort of their own phone and turn to social media where they can present small portions of their true selves. Whether they realize it or not, it is easier for teens to communicate online where they can think about their responses and their physical reactions are hidden. However, losing this hour or more of face to face social interaction is harmful. Communicating through social media is not representative of communication between two people which will be necessary in order to make new friends, maintain relationships and collaborate with coworkers. Clinical psychologist Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair and author of The Big Disconnect says in Child Mind Institute’s article “How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers,” states that “There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. In a way, texting and online communicating…puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible” (Ehmke). Clinical psychologists agree that teenagers are lacking the necessary social skills needed throughout life to communicate and succeed. It is very unfortunate that teenagers are missing the warm, fuzzy and affectionate experience of hanging with best friends and are instead stuck behind cold, inanimate, apathetic computer screens for their social interactions. Furthermore, social platforms enable bullies to hide behind screens and ridicule their peers with very little ramifications. Schools tend not to have jurisdiction over their student’s digital lives, and it is very easy to be anonymous online allowing cruel behavior to go unnoticed. Clinical psychologists note in the Child Mind Institute Article aforementioned that “Kids text all sorts of things that you would never in a million years contemplate saying to anyone’s face” (Ehmke). Social media provides an easy outlet for teenagers to be cruel without facing the possible consequences of saying their snarky comment to someone’s face. Cyberbullying could also directly relate to the mental health issues mentioned previously and it is an unnecessary evil that is unfortunately synonymous with social media. There is no reason why teenagers should be subjected to increased criticism and conflict that cannot be easily revolved since sometimes the bully’s identity is unclear. Teens experience enough criticism from their peers, they certainly do not need another opportunity to be degraded. Socializing is one of the most important aspects of a teen’s life as they discover who they are and what they want to do with the support of their friends and encouragement from role models, but social media is replacing these important channels in a teen’s life. Social media’s negative consequences far outweigh any benefits it may possess.

Not only does social media contribute to consequences regarding mental health and social aspects of a teen’s life, it also alters students’ academic performance by acting as a distraction and affecting sleep cycles. The Child Mind Institute’s report noted that teenagers regularly use social media while doing homework and studying instead of completely focusing on their assignments which results in homework taking longer. Another psychologist Dr. Hamlet said in the report “Basically, multitasking isn’t possible. What you end up doing is really just switching back and forth between two tasks rather quickly. There is a cost to the brain” (Ehmke). Teenagers are unfocused and become less productive, making homework unsuccessful in its goal to reinforce taught concepts. Academic performance in high school determines admission into college which sets teenagers up for their future. The last thing teenagers need is the alluring temptation of social media preventing them from achieving their goals. Parents and schools concerned about students’ performance should teach teenagers how to manage their time and resist the distraction of social media. Another factor that decreases academic performance is the lack of sleep as a result of social media usage. Sleep is crucial for performance in school because it is vital for retaining information and being both mentally and physically rested. Academic Journal Global Pediatric Health in the article “Bedtime Use of Technology and Associated in Sleep Problems in Children” states that they “have identified health repercussions associated with increased technology use in college-aged adolescents including decreased sleep quality, increased inattention…The study found that 62% of patients took their phones to bed with them, 37% texted after “lights out”, and 1 out of 12 adolescents were woken by a text in the middle of the night at least 2 or more times each week” (Fuller, Caitlyn et al.). Teenagers quality and amount of sleep decline as a result of electronic use before falling sleep which affects their effectiveness at school the next day. A lack of sleep also leads to depression which contributes to teens losing their motive for excelling at school. Sleep is crucial for the developing teenage brain and teenagers need more sleep than the average adult making it that much more important. Isn’t sleep and overall health and performance more important than Kanye’s latest tweet? Teens are sacrificing their wellbeing and possibly even their future for a platform that does them more harm than good.

Social media was once thought to be an aid to society, but it has now become a problem that affects almost every aspect of a teenager’s life from their mental health to their sleep schedule. The wellbeing of their children should always be parents’ first priority and schools should be equally invested in the performance of their students. Social media is standing in the way of both of these priorities which is why parents, teachers, administrators and leaders need to take action and inform teenagers about the effects of social media and encourage in-person reactions to fulfill their social needs. Teens need guidance during this tumultuous time in their life and many look to role models to help them navigate through the challenges. Be a role model and show teens that social media should not be the center of their life and instead be an occasional form of entertainment. Society protects teens from what it deems to be harmful activities: drinking, doing drugs, and smoking. Why not social media too?

Works Cited

Ehmke, Rachel, and Child Mind Institute. “How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers.” Child Mind Institute, https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects-teenagers.

Fuller, Caitlyn, et al. “Bedtime Use of Technology and Associated Sleep Problems in Children.” Global Pediatric Health, vol. 4, 27 Oct. 2017, doi:10.1177/2333794x17736972.

Lenhart, Amanda. “Teens, Technology and Friendships.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, 6 Aug. 2015, https://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/06/teens-technology-and-friendships

Steele, Ric G., et al. “Conceptualizing Digital Stress in Adolescents and Young Adults: Toward the Development of an Empirically Based Model.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 7 Aug. 2019, doi:10.1007/s10567-019-00300-5.

Twenge, Jean M., et al. “Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time.” Clinical Psychological Science, vol. 6, no. 1, 14 Nov. 2017, pp. 3–17., doi:10.1177/2167702617723376.

Twenge, Jean M., et al. “Less in-Person Social Interaction with Peers among U.S. Adolescents in the 21st Century and Links to Loneliness.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 36, no. 6, 19 Mar. 2019, pp. 1892–1913., doi:10.1177/0265407519836170.

Viner, Russell M, et al. “Roles of Cyberbullying, Sleep, and Physical Activity in Mediating the Effects of Social Media Use on Mental Health and Wellbeing among Young People in England: a Secondary Analysis of Longitudinal Data.” The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, vol. 3, no. 10, 13 Aug. 2019, pp. 685–696., doi:10.1016/s2352-4642(19)30186.