“Fame and attention have become more democratic as a result of social media, though not always in a positive way.”
In just over a decade, the impact of social media has grown from an entertainment supplement to a fully integrated part of almost every aspect of everyday life for many people. And in the ultimate grid of the digital and physical worlds, as social media infiltrates politics, work, family life, and more, it continues to evolve at lightning speed, making it difficult to predict where it will bring the next change.
Social media is not a utility. It’s not like electricity or water that everyone cares if it works. What young people are interested in using one platform or another to have their say. It’s not fun to use the same website as your parents and grandparents, so they’re always on the lookout for new things.
Like all technology social media, has advantages and disadvantages. And when it comes to the effects of social media on teenagers, those pros and cons are especially important. Platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, on the other hand, can be lifesavers for teens who feel isolated or marginalised. Furthermore, during the pandemic, social media helped teens feel more connected and less lonely.
However, the impact of social media on youth mental health can be significant. Social media, in particular, is strongly linked to teen depression. Furthermore, excessive app use exposes teens to cyberbullying, body image issues, and tech addiction, as well as less time spent doing healthy, real-world activities. While most parents believe they know what their child is doing on social media, according to a Pew Research poll, 70% of teens hide their online behaviour from their parents.
Is social media and teens a good mix, or does social media use lower teen well-being? This has become one of the more controversial questions regarding social media’s effects on teens, with studies showing varied results, including recent research on the use of social media during the pandemic.
According to a report released in 2021 by Common Sense Media on social media’s effects on teens, about half of the 1,500 young people surveyed said social media is very important for them in order to get support and advice, feel less lonely, and express themselves creatively, as well as to stay in touch with friends and family while social distancing was mandated. In addition, 43% said that using social media helps them feel better when they are depressed, stressed, or anxious.
Social media not only provides avenues for teens to seek help and support, but it also provides forums for teens to encourage one another to engage in risky and unhealthy behaviours. As a result, teens suffering from eating disorders or who self-harm can connect with others to discuss their destructive habits. Obsessive calorie counting, fasting, and over-exercising are accepted and encouraged in these online forums. As a result, teens may learn to conceal or intensify their behaviour, putting them at risk.
On the other hand, a teen social network can motivate teenagers to develop healthy habits. As a result, seeing peers eat nutritious foods, engaging in creative activities, or spending time outside amidst nature can inspire other teenagers to do the same. Peer motivation can be generated by social networks, inspiring young people to try new things, pursue their dreams, and speak out about issues that are important to them. Positive role models for teenagers can also be found online. As a result, the impact of social media on teens may result in more unplugged time and increased self-care behaviour.
The influence of social media on youth extends to an important aspect of adolescent development: the formation of one’s distinct identity. As a result, social media platforms provide a platform for teens to practise skills related to identity development. Self-presentation and self-disclosure—sharing their opinions, beliefs, and preferences—are examples of these.
Researchers discovered that teens who expressed their opinions on social media experienced increased well-being in a longitudinal survey of 219 freshmen at a state university. Another study discovered that adolescents who communicated more online had greater “self-concept clarity”—a better understanding of who they were. This self-awareness benefits one’s mental health.
According to a 2020 research article on teens and social media, because social media gives teens the “autonomy to explore and experiment with their identities in their own space, where they have control over what, how, and with whom they share information,” it has the potential to be especially important during COVID-19 when real-life opportunities for identity formation were limited.
Friendship and social skills are two other areas where social media has both positive and negative impact on youth. According to a Pew Research Centre survey, 81% of teens said social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives. Furthermore, two-thirds of teens reported that these platforms make them feel as if they have people who will support them during difficult times.
Of course, during the pandemic, social media became one of the most common—and sometimes the only—ways for teens to interact with their peers. However, there is a distinction between a teen’s social media friends and their real friends. According to the Pew survey, 60% of teens say they spend time with their friends online on a daily or nearly daily basis, but only 24% spend time with their friends in person on a daily or nearly daily basis (pre-COVID). These statistics demonstrate how online connections do not always translate into in-person relationships.
Furthermore, during the pandemic, cyberbullying increased exponentially. According to a 2020 report by the organisation L1ght, there has been a 70% increase in hate speech among kids and teens across communication channels such as social media and popular chat forums. More time spent online increases access to both the positive and negative aspects of social media’s effects on teens.
Scientists discovered that excessive teen social media use creates a stimulation pattern similar to that of other addictive behaviours. As a result, the brain reacts to social media in the same way it does to other “rewards”—by releasing dopamine. These dopamine surges are triggered when a teen posts something online and receives likes, shares, and positive feedback from their peers.
(Featured Image Source: The Video Link)
(This article has been written by Rudra Ravi Sharma who is a columnist and independent freelance journalist and often pens his opinion on socio-political issues and dynamics of digital marketing).