BY STELLA BRYAN
We all love social media. Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter. But what if these “essential apps” are doing more harm than good? Studies show that kids are growing up with increased self-esteem issues and anxiety due to the influence of social media. Out of 7.7 billion people in the world, about 3.5 billion are on the internet. Now, if we focus in on only adolescents, 71% of teens are involved with social media and use more than one platform. As time continues, technology advances and popularity increases. Since these devices have been ingrained into our day to day lives, it’s bound to have some effects on us.
One tap is all it takes to get hooked. We develop an addiction that feels nearly impossible to combat. It leads to fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and unrealistic expectations. Constantly comparing ourselves to celebrities creates an immense amount of insecurity. We are shown these unrealistic ideals based on our bodies, face, and even personality. We’re projected messages to “fix” ourselves. We expect ourselves to meet these impractical features, hurting one’s ego substantially. A problem that seems small can lead to eating disorders, where obsessing over self-image, calorie intake, purging, and binging can cause serious health issues. According to huffpost.com, “[…] media is a causal risk factor for the development of eating disorders.”
When online, cyberbullying is a risk you’re going to take, and if encountered by it, can greatly increase your chances of developing an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorders Association states, “[…] as many as 65% of people with eating disorders say bullying contributed to their condition.” Bullying can affect one’s mindset immensely, and if they’re already facing self-image problems due to unrealistic ideals, their risk of developing an eating condition can be severe.
So, can social media truly impact your mental health that much? Well, according to Polaris Teen, “Approximately one in five teens (aged 12 to 18) suffer from at least one mental health disorder. While depression and anxiety are the most commonly diagnosed mental illness, teens can also suffer from eating disorders, personality disorders, substance-abuse disorders, psychotic disorders, and more.” Without social media’s influence, adolescents already feel the extreme impact of mental health concerns. In addition to the increased chance of mental illness, teens are hooked on social media and overall influenced by those involved on it. Many well-known celebrities unknowingly impact adolescents views on their bodies, self-image, and mindset. This can lead to these mental illnesses, and the general incline of unhappy teens.
Like stated previously, cyberbullying is a huge risk when involved in social media. Cyberbullying can produce effects just as bad as bullying. This includes depression, anxiety, and an increased risk of suicidal thoughts. According to bullystatistics.org, “Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or Internet.” Cyberbullying can severely damage your well being, whether that be mental health, physical health, or academic levels. Many teens who have experienced cyberbullying have found themselves to have a low self-esteem, spend immense amounts of time alone, skip school, and are overall angry and/or depressed. Countless individuals on social media create a negative setting online, where others can feel hurt. This leads to its impact on mental health in adolescents.
In recent years, researchers have established that social media addiction can lead to anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impulsive disorder, issues with mental functioning, paranoia, and loneliness. We have become so dependent on our cellphones as a way to interact that we dig ourselves into a ditch of isolation. According to viewpointcenter.com, “A new study by the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania found that teens who use social media heavily are 3 times as likely to feel socially isolated.” This then impacts their mental health. Socialization throughout your adolescents is a big deal. It teaches you how to communicate with others and build relationships and bonds with those around you. It’s a necessary life skill. This “addiction” is preventing teens from building that skill, leading to isolation, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Even though there seems to be many negative aspects about social media, it can help meet certain needs and allow teens to have an outlet. Although social media can lead to isolation and social negatives, you are also given the opportunity to converse and build bonds with people online. Paintedbrain.org states, “Social media offers the chance to connect with others, and offers enough anonymity to allow people with mental illness to express themselves without revealing their identities. In other words, it allows self-expression without the danger of stigma.” Though it can lead to mental health issues, social media can also help throughout, especially those with social anxiety. Throughout my personal experience with social media, I have encountered a situation similar to this concept. During my freshman year I was enrolled in an online school and stayed home almost everyday. As a result, I turned to social media as a means of communication. Over time I met people my age online and found myself becoming close with them. It not only helped me out of my shell, but I met some amazing people. Without them, my time spent in online schooling would have been terrible. Social media can not only cause harm, but heal the harm it’s caused.
Despite its ability to “heal”, it can cause all of the negative possibilities described previously. Studies based on social media’s correlation with social isolation state, “[…] those who visited any platforms at least 58 times per week were three times more likely to feel socially isolated compared to those who used social media less than 9 times per week.” How can we improve these statistics? How can we decrease social media, especially when brain plasticity is at its peak? Many of the solutions begin and end with you. You’re in charge of your own decisions, whether or not you want to be involved online is up to you. Some of these solutions are right at your fingertips.
In order to wean yourself off of technology after being what seems to be “addicted”, there are some simple things you can try. One of the biggest things is to try and set boundaries in regards to how much time you spend online. You can start slow and gradually spend less and less time online. Another huge helper is to monitor how much time you spend on certain apps and set a limit in your settings. You can also tweak your notification settings so you receive less, making the urge to grab your phone dissipate. There are also apps that allow you to block other apps like social media, games, and text messages for a certain amount of time, or during certain periods of times. There are various ways to limit the amount of time you spend on your cell phone, laptop, computer, or television, but it’s up to you to limit it or not.