Social Media’s Impact on Teenagers | #2
Thomas Lin, October 30th, 2022
In recent years, social media has become the prototype of the blame for the mistakes and misfortune of teenagers. Many parents would blame social media and electronic devices to be the culprit for their teens’ moodiness, and distorted sleep schedule, and relate them to the common mistakes of a person to the apps on their electronic devices. In a poll from Ann & Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, 67% of the 2,909 American parents surveyed have felt concerned over their teen’s addiction to social media. Is this seemingly nagging concern right?
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is a professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business and has done extensive research on social media’s impact on society, especially teens. In an article published in The Atlantic, Haidt wrote “Something terrible has happened to Gen Z…when we look at what happened to American teens in the early 2010s, we see many such turning points. The data for adolescent depression [is] noteworthy”. The evidence he presented is alarming, to say the least, especially for teen girls.
However, some have argued that the increase in depressive episodes may be a result of teenagers’ willingness to report and communicate mental health issues. However, there is also data linking major depressive episodes to hospitalizations for suicide attempts for adolescents aged 11 to 18. In a study done by experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, they saw that suicide attempts doubled from 2008 to 2015, which became the third leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States. Similar trends also exist in Canada, a report from the Government of Canada also shows a gradual increase between 2009 to 2014 of hospitalizations due to intentional self-harm.
By all means, correlation does not prove causation; however, Haidt states in the same article that there seems to be no other plausible explanation for this crisis and why the such phenomenon exists across first-world countries.
Social Media platforms by their nature are “virtual”, where displaying one’s true self through filters, algorithms, and negative feedback loops is a rarity. A 2019 survey from Pew Research Center showed at 77% of adolescents aged 13–17 agree that “people are less authentic and real on social media than they are in real life”. A prime example of inauthenticity on social media is “idealized body image” which would spark a comparison between peers and/or models. Neha Chaudhary, an adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School remarked on this psychology further, “People end up creating unrealistic ideals for themselves based on what they see and feel distressed when they aren’t able to meet [their own] self-expectations.” The effects of body image when scrolling through social media — especially Instagram and Tiktok is uniquely alarming. Through constant information of images and videos of filtration and algorithmic modelling of the “most beautiful” faces, Tiktok and Instagram push the most attractive content to users. The following side effect would be the development of an addiction. According to a study by Harvard University, the neurological effects of social media are addictive because activities such as acquiring intriguing information and self-disclosure on social media trigger the same areas of the brain when taking addictive substances. Combined with other phenomena such as FOMO anxiety, these addictive feelings are especially harmful to sleep during adolescent development where studies have shown that the more time adolescents spent on screen-based activities such as social media during the day, the harder time they had falling asleep and the less sleep they got during the night. More hauntingly, those sleep issues were then found to be linked with increased symptoms of insomnia and depression.
The recent development of communications technology has benefited the lives of adolescents in many ways. However, likes most things that bring convenience and joy, there is always a point of overboard and addiction. Social media can be effectively used for fast messaging and relaxation, we just need to implement techniques to prevent unhealthy use that could bring more suffering than the joy social media could offer.
Lurie Children’s. “Parenting Teens in the Age of Social Media.” Lurie Children’s, https://www.luriechildrens.org/en/blog/social-media-parenting-statistics/#:~:text=68%25%20of%20parents%20believe%20social,is%20addicted%20to%20social%20media
Haidt, Jonathan. “The Dangerous Experiment on Teen Girls.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 21 Nov. 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/11/facebooks-dangerous-experiment-teen-girls/620767/.
Heger, Erin. “Why Social Media Can Make You Feel Bad About Your Body — and 3 Easy Tips to Use Social Media to Boost Self-Esteem.” Insider, Insider, 9 Mar. 2021, https://www.insider.com/how-social-media-affects-body-image.
Hilliard, Jena. “Social Media Addiction.” Addiction Center, 17 Dec. 2021, https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/#:~:text=Due%20to%20the%20effect%20that,when%20taking%20an%20addictive%20substance.
Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “Chart 13 Percentage of Injury Hospitalizations Due to Intentional Self-Harm, by Sex and Age Group, Canada (Excluding Quebec), 2009–2010 to 2013–2014.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, 8 Mar. 2016, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14324/c-g/c-g13-eng.htm.
Li, Buxton, et al. “Sleep Mediates the Association between Adolescent Screen Time and Depressive Symptoms.” Sleep Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30897456/.
Lenhart, Amanda, et al. “Social Media and Teen Romantic Relationships.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 31 Dec. 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2015/10/01/social-media-and-romantic-relationships/#:~:text=Many%20teens%20in%20relationships%20view,jealousy%20or%20uncertainty%20about%20the.