Humans are social creatures. Whether celebrating national holidays or coming together in support of each other after a tragedy, it is in our nature to search for and bond with other humans. Many people feel safer in groups than when alone, and technology provides an option for reaching out to others around the globe instantaneously.
When a photo of a new haircut yields dozens (or even hundreds) of likes and positive feedback, it makes you feel good – endorphins release as the feeling of acceptance washes over you. But there is a downside to social media.
Exposing every aspect of your life to the world also puts you at risk. Constant use of social media is a form of addiction that feeds on anxiety and leads to emotional and physical problems. Teens are particularly susceptible to the highs and lows that come with the excessive use of social media.
Types of Social Media
Just because you know about Facebook and Snapchat does not mean those are the only social media outlets for teens. While this list is not all-inclusive, the most popular venues and apps are:
- Facebook / Facebook Live
As a parent, taking the time to know which sites are used by your teen(s) is the first step toward identifying if they are too frequently using social media or making contact with individuals and groups that are dangerous.
Negative Effects of Social Media
From grief to sobriety, counselors agree a good support system is a key to finding a healthy lifestyle that allows you to deal with life’s stresses positively. But studies show a direct correlation between negative interactions on social sites and an increase in anxiety.
Frequent use, often for hours at a time, also exposed teens to posts that become emotional triggers – setting off episodes of severe anxiety. They experience persistent self-demeaning comparisons, seeing themselves as in competition with others for who has the “best life.” Teens judge others based on social posts and profiles and are acutely aware they are being judged as well.
Impacts on Depression
Depression is already a risk in teens as they go through rapid hormonal and growth changes. Depressed teens admit they feel more popular and less shy when using social media, but simultaneously feel worse about themselves and have lower self-esteem – leading to greater depression.
Individuals who suffer from depression also tend to participate in “stressed posting” where negative personal problems are publicly displayed and left open for comment. While they are looking for support in many cases, this also leaves them open to negative feedback or no responses at all, again worsening depressive symptoms.
Teens dealing with depression are found to be at higher risk for victimization through social sites. Perceived friend support against peer negativity can help protect a young person, but physical support with direct human interaction is still much more effective. Negative interactions online are directly related to teens clinically reporting higher levels of depression.
Just as constantly checking your social posts for followers and likes can lead to obsession, so can being targeted through social media outlets. Since responding to posts, blogs, and videos online is somewhat anonymous (creating fake social media accounts is not difficult), some individuals capitalize on the opportunity to say whatever they want without care for repercussion.
Online arguments and accusations cross over into the physical world. Some examples of how cyberbullying take place include:
- Maliciously sending negative content, including photos, about someone
- Sharing private information about someone with the intent to embarrass or hurt them
- Sending threatening messages or taunting someone to commit suicide
- Spreading mean-spirited or false material on a public forum
Cyberbullying is just like any other form of harassment except that it centers on using technology to deliver the message. Texts, social media, e-mails, and instant messaging are all vehicles for cyberbullying.
Think it’s not a big problem? Then why has the federal government stepped in with strategies and programs specifically to fight this type of bullying? In 2015 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) presented statistics that 16% of all high school students experience cyberbullying.
Considering over 70% of teen participate in online game forums, cyberbullying is also present on those platforms. Players can send messages to each other or post messages for a group and can use those media to harass other members.
Victims of cyberbullying show behaviors linked to delinquency, depression and drug use. Since the intimidation takes place on a virtual platform, it is often difficult for teachers and parents to identify the source of the problem correctly. Even the victim may not know who is targeting them, so they may try and keep it to themselves for fear of further humiliation.
Another one of the negative effects of social media on teens is the increase in a tendency to engage in potentially dangerous behaviors. Oversharing is the tendency to provide social updates far too often, or the sharing of personal information on an inappropriate level. This need to overexpose one’s personal life leaves that person prone to everything from identity theft to getting fired.
Since many teens find friends through social media instead of meeting people in person, these young people are also at risk of exposure to individuals with sociopathic or predatory tendencies. They believe what they see in photos or read in status updates without realizing there is no proof of a person’s real intentions.
For years, law enforcement agencies using social sites to apprehend predators experienced great success and continue to do so now. Colleges even offer courses designed to train criminology students how to use social media to catch criminals.
Physical health is also put at risk from excessive social media usage. Research already proved that the use of screens, including cell phones, delays your body’s release of melatonin and therefore the onset of sleep by at least a half an hour.
A study in France explored the impacts of constant social media usage in young teens and found of the 85% that had cell phones, over half of them continued to use the technology after going to bed. Scientists confirmed that teens were waking up during the night to send text messages, play games and interact with social media.
The leap of social media use from kids in sixth grade to teens in ninth grade is staggering. While teens need nearly nine hours of sleep each night, a third were sleeping six or less and admitted the sleep loss occurred while interacting online (not studying). These same teens complained of difficulty falling asleep at night, but also fighting the desire to sleep during the day.
Lack of sleep contributed to irritability and overall feelings of sadness in children as young as eleven years old. Losing sleep is also directly related to other problems including lower performance in school and mood swings or disorders.
Stress from cyberbullying also contributed to difficulty sleeping in teens. Research shows that girls are at risk of taking drugs to assist in falling asleep, and sometimes use turns to abuse as young women battle to cope with being mistreated via social media outlets.
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a phenomenon born from peer pressure. While adults are at risk of this too, teens are more likely to feel the need to be online and accessible to their social network. FOMO is connected to addiction or obsession and is why young people feel the need to have their phones constantly at the ready.
Why do people have their phones in hand while driving or watching a movie in the theater? After paying to see a large screen, why spend time staring a small screen that you carry around all the time? Why stay up late scrolling away when you see your friends the next day? One answer covers them all – FOMO.
The teens most at risk for negative outcomes are those who wander aimlessly on social media, scrolling through statuses and updates without purpose. Adolescents using technology to send direct messages to known friends or as another form of direct communication do not appear to be at the same level of risk.
The factor most important in teen wellness concerning social media is parental involvement. Parents who pay attention to, and limit if necessary, the amount of time their teenager spends on social media are instrumental in protecting their children from harmful influences.
Solutions for keeping social media from becoming destructive include taking social media breaks or limiting online interactions. Setting boundaries and limits will train young people to understand that there is real life happening outside of their virtual lives.
Leaving the phone off at night and during dinner, keeping it in the car when enjoying outdoor activities such as hiking or going to the beach, and limiting social media time are small ways to make big, positive changes in your teen’s life.