By Natalie Mowbray, ’22
While the presence of social media in daily life grows, concerns about it do as well. This generation of teenagers has grown up alongside the newest lines of cell phones and tablets, and an ever-changing array of apps to entertain, inform and connect them. With the click of a button, people can play games, share videos, livestream and more with people all over the world. Although it may seem like social media is a great communication tool to connect teenagers with their peers, it can also be a troublesome device for many as well.
According to the Mayo Clinic, social media use can “negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure.” When behind a screen, many people can be tempted to say hurtful things and messages since there are no immediate consequences for these actions. These words can lower a teenager’s self esteem and lead to mental health problems. During a time in adolescent development in which teenagers are discovering their personality and growing mentally, online bullying can cause them to change in order to avoid being verbally attacked online.
When teenagers open up social media applications such as Instagram, they can see people posting pictures of themselves appearing to lead the “perfect lives.” Some even post digitally altered photographs of themselves using Photoshop to appear flawless to their Instagram followers. During a time in which adolescents’ bodies are growing and their lives consist mostly of school, some teens grow to resent their own bodies or the fact that their lives are not as seemingly perfect as some influencers. According to the Mayo Clinic, a small 2013 study found that older adolescents who used social media passively, such as by just viewing others’ photos, “reported declines in life satisfaction.” Although most Instagram or Snapchat posts are just glimpses of a person’s life, other users look at the posts and often feel like their own lives can’t compare.
Despite these negative aspects of social media usage, there are some benefits. For example, teens can be connected with their friends at all times, and constantly have access to educate themselves and to learn about their world. They have all of the necessary tools and information to navigate the world, and it makes learning much easier. In such a time where a pandemic prohibits people from seeing their friends and family and when school is held online, social media is a useful tool to help connect with peers and supplement learning.
A few juniors from Hanover High School shared their opinions on the ever-growing presence of social media in their lives. Molly McGlame, Kylie Campbell, and Meghan Enos cannot imagine their lives without their devices. “It is easier to communicate with friends and interact with people,” said Meghan. Kylie appreciates how easy it is to plan events and gather with her friends. “I like how simple it is to spread information quickly and efficiently to large groups of people,” she said. However, Gianna Rizzo and Sydney Patch shared that they don’t always enjoy the havoc that social media can bring into their lives. They stated that “social media can distract us for hours everyday, and divert us from getting our school work done.”
In my opinion, social media is great whenever I want to talk to my friends or check up on other people that I haven’t spoken to in a while. But it can be too distracting when I am trying to get my schoolwork done. And when I scroll through pictures on Instagram for a while, I can start to feel as though my life is inadequate in comparison to the posts that other people make.
Whether or not social media is ultimately good or bad for teenagers, it can be said for certain that it impacts the teenage brain. According to Our Teen Brains, “the reward pathway” in the brain develops much faster in teenage brains than the other parts do. When teenagers engage with social media, it causes this center to light up and become activated. However, this is short term gratification that leads to their excitement when another person likes their posts, but also disappointment when they don’t receive enough “likes.” “Teenagers are often afraid of what others may think about what they post and don’t want to be judged in a negative light,” the website stated. “In this manner, increased social media often contributes to increased feelings of heightened anxiety and social stress.” The anxiety about what others may think of their social media posts can lead teenagers down a slippery slope.
As great as it may sound to be connected at all times, it is just as vital to learn how to disconnect sometimes and enjoy the present moment. Experts advise teens to take breaks every once in a while and disconnect from the devices and feeds. Additionally, users should remember that the lives shared on platforms such as Instagram are almost always superficial, and should not be mistaken for real life.