Around half of teenagers in the United States, ages 13 to 17, say that they use Facebook; but the larger share of users actually goes to Instagram, Youtube, and Snapchat. The majority of teens have access to social either via home computer or smartphone, and needless to say, this wide use of social network has a significant effect on teens’ mental health.
What do studies say?
There have been studies that explore the effects of social media on teens. One study, for example, found that those who spent more time on social media were more at risk of reporting eating and body image concerns. A small study from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center found that there was increased activity in the reward center of the brain of teens ages 13-18 after receiving a high number of likes on their photos. Furthermore, excessive social media use has also been found to correlate with sleep problems and symptoms of depression.
How can social media be destructive?
Comparing themselves with others. Most social media users, especially the more prominent ones such as celebrities or bloggers, curate their online presence – sometimes they are too well-curated that followers cannot help but compare their lives with these people, and effectively, cause anxiety and feelings of insecurity. Similarly, perceived successes and failures are highlighted and put under a microscope when shared online.
Seeking validation from “likes.” It is all about the “likes” for the young social media users now. This need to gain validation pushes teens to change their appearance and engage in compromising and dangerous activities.
Risking their privacy. Invasion of privacy is a real issue in social media. Recently, there have been news on Facebook’s use of personal information of its users for various purposes such as influencing election turnouts. Moreover, it is easy to create fake accounts on Facebook and pretend to be someone else. Teens collect thousands of “friends” on Facebook, and it is impossible to monitor each of them. This makes it possible for strangers, or worse – criminals – to have access to their photos, updates, and whereabouts.
Reducing facetime. Real-life, face-to-face interaction enhances one’s compassion and empathy – weapons that our teens need in the battle on bullying. When teens engage more online than in real life, they are deprived of the opportunity to develop these important values.
Cyberbullying. Speaking of bullying, one of the most pressing problems that teens face today is cyberbullying. Associated with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, cyberbullying affects around half of US teens. In case your teen falls victim to cyberbullying, do not hesitate to ask for the school’s help, if it happens within the campus or the bully goes to the same school. California anti-bullying laws cover cyberbullying that happen off-campus, whether the creation or transmission started on or off the school site. In case of threats of physical violence, escalate to law enforcement immediately and seek a lawyer’s advice.
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