As social media becomes more prevalent in our daily lives, people are finding it increasingly difficult to stay away from platforms like Facebook and Instagram. While adults might find it easier to distance themselves from the digital word, for children, this is more challenging. Youth are always looking to be the cool kid on the block. While in the 90s, this would have entailed wearing the latest pair of Nike Air Jordan’s, today it would include the famous sneakers along with the latest iPhone. Kids today are bombarded more than ever with information that revolves around the latest technologies, apps and social trends. Even politics has permeated their social dialogue. Still, these modern marvels of the 21st Century have not come without a price and children have been the first to experience the negative effects of some of these technologies, especially social media.
Here are three ways use of social media is harmful for teenagers.
1. Increased Anxiety
Research is beginning to show some of the adverse consequences of social media on the lives of youth under the age of 20. A study conducted by Amanda Lenhart reveals that there are several triggers, which are responsible for increased anxiety amongst teenagers. These include matters, such as not being inviting to certain events through Facebook, feeling the need to constantly be posting uplifting details about oneself and the necessity to have friends post on one’s page and like their content (Shafer, 2017). While the element of fitting in at school has not been a symptom reserved solely for this generation of youth, the fact is that whatever gets posted online will remain there forever, a daunting reality previous generations of teens never had to contend with. In light of these current trends, I feel fortunate not to have grown up with such distractions during my high school years.
2. Depression and Anti-Social Behaviour
As children become more and more dependent on computers, tablets and mobile devices as principal modes of communication, a feeling of loneliness starts to set in. This is a concern that has even penetrated the adult population as well. JAMA Psychiatry published a study in 2019 that correlated three hours of use of social media amongst adolescents aged 12 to 15 to higher rates of mental health issues, such as depression (Basu, 2019). Moreover, as less time is spent on interacting with people directly, individuals, especially adolescents would find it challenging as they mature to integrate into a society that still functions on a face-to-face basis. According to Dr. Jeff Nalin, a Clinical Psychologist, kids that don’t learn how to directly interact with others will not have the ability to read body language or changes in vocal tones (Nalin, 2018). That’s a scary thought moving forward in life.
Rehtaeh Parsons was only 17 years old when she committed suicide after photos of her allegedly being sexually assaulted were distributed online. She was subsequently bullied on Facebook and at school. Unfortunately, a lack of diligent policing combined with legislation that didn’t keep pace with new technologies and the crimes that would be perpetrated through them, prevented stiffer punishments from being handed down on the perpetrators. Cyberbullying is an ongoing challenge for parents, teachers, law enforcement and of course students, even with positive changes in the Canadian Criminal Code resulting from tragedies like Parsons.
Cyberbullying can encompass a variety of means, which include posting hurtful messages about someone through fake social media accounts, sexting (the act of sending nude pictures or sexually suggestive pictures of someone without their consent via text) or distributing nude pictures or videos of a person through the internet or email, again, without their consent. However, Bill C-13 (Bill C-13) amended the Criminal Code even further by making it illegal for those under the age of 18 to send sexual images, even if done so consensually.
Whether or not one supports the use of social media, it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. We enjoy the many conveniences that modern technologies provide us, but they are not without consequence. As a society, we must acknowledge the inherent risks attached to such mediums and limit the amount of time children spend in cyberspace. This will certainly require a more assertive effort by parents. Yet, while emphasis is correctly placed on youth, adults should also be cautious of these risks. Cyberspace might seem like a reality, but it is not a tangible reality, which requires face-to-face communication. Although I personally use platforms like Facebook for my employment in order to communicate and engage with our audience, I also stress the importance of meeting individuals in person to bear witness to their thoughts and emotions in a way that can never be replicated through the use of social media.