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Social Media & Teens

This month, 3Ts were joined in the office by two young transition year students who were keen to volunteer and help out behind the scenes of a charity.  We asked them what mental health issues are most prevalent amongst teens and not surprisingly they had quite a list. Social media was one of their top issues, so we asked them to write for the blog about how they see social media impacting on the mental health of teenagers.  Here’s what they had to say:

Social media is a big part of everyday life, and particularly for teenagers, who have grown up with it and are at home in the online space. Over 80% of teenagers use some form of social media.

Platforms such as Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, have a broad appeal while others such as YouTube, Tik Tok and SnapChat attract more teens.

And as teens are a social bunch, any additional social outlet is welcome.

But what impact does social media use have on teens?

The Good

Social media brings lots of benefits. It keeps us connected and informed and engages us in content that interests us. Social media apps allow us to interact even when were not together. Those who struggle with social skills can benefit from social media in preference to real-life, face-to-face communication.

The Bad:

Teens spend a huge amount of time on social media at the expense of other activities, impacting on their studies and on their physical and mental health. Social media is in fact one of the leading causes of mental health issues in teenagers today.

Here are some of the ways that social media can impact on our mental health.

Body image: Using social media can change how we perceive ourselves and our lives. Its human nature to draw comparisons with others, but not everything we see on social media is real. People use filters and editing apps to change their appearance in photos. This can put pressure on teenage girls, in particular, and increasingly too on teenage boys, to change how they look in order to compare favourably or to fit in. Comparing ourselves to others can cause us to become over critical of ourselves, leading to anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Feeling Inadequate about Life: Most of the time when people post things on social media, they show only the positive parts of their day. However, these posts only show a fraction of how their day really went. We dont see the full picture. We get edited highlights. This can cause others to feel they aren’t having as exciting a social life or that they’re failing in some other way. This can impact on self-esteem and lead to anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.

Loneliness: Social media makes it easier to communicate with others, however, this can lead to a lack of face-to-face contact. While this may suit some, for others it can make make them feel isolated and lonely. Another factor that can lead to the feeling of loneliness is seeing people together on social media. This can make people feel rejected and left out, which makes them question themselves. On top of that, being isolated from others creates bad communication and causes people to bottle things up.

Cyberbullying: In the past if people were being bullied they could escape the bully by going home. Unfortunately, nowadays there is no escape for those who are being bullied as they can be targeted 24/7. Social media platforms can be used to spread false and hurtful rumours or lies about others. If you are being cyberbullied you should talk to a trusted adult, limit the time you spend online and block anyone who has a negative affect on your mental health.

False Information: as we mentioned above not everything on social media is true. But in addition to what people themselves post, social media algorithms are designed to pick up on users interests and feed them more of the same type of content. So, if a user expresses an interest, in violent content, for instance, they will be fed more of the same, often at the expense of seeing a broader and more balanced picture. Recent high profile instances of targeted content during political campaigns demonstrate how hard it is for adults to distinguish the truth from fake news and so for teenagers with developing brains, this aspect of social media is particularly harmful.  Most recently, Facebook company documents have revealed that Facebook knows that Instagram is toxic for teens.  Its own in-depth research shows a significant teen mental-health issue that Facebook plays down in public.  Read more here

Thankfully, there is a very easy way to safeguard against the impact of social media on our lives and that is to reduce our time on it. We’ve put together some other simple tips.

Positive steps to take

1) Spend more time with friends face-to-face

2) Stop following people who don’t make you feel good

3) Spend more time doing things you like such as reading or cooking

4) Try not to check your phone constantly and live in the moment

5) Always make sure to spend time outdoors as fresh air is important

6) Turn your phone off at night to ensure you get a good night’s sleep

7) Put a limit on the amount of time you can spend on your phone each day

8) Talk to a trusted person if social media is affecting your mental health

Although social media has many positives, it also has lots of negatives that can seriously impact our mental health. You should always be aware that not everything you see online is real and you should never compare yourself to others. Always talk to someone you trust if you feel that social media is affecting your mental health.

Our thanks to our two very clued in TY work experience interns who have pulled together this piece on what social media means to teens.

October 2021