Social Media and the Negative Impact On Teens

Over the next few weeks, “The Talon” will be releasing a series of stories regarding depression, anxiety, obesity, nutrition, sleeping habits, and time management. Sources were given the option to remain anonymous, as the topics are incredibly personal. Please be advised, some of the published stories may be disturbing to some readers.

By Lauren Cohen

For some students at Oak Hall, using social media apps like Snapchat or Instagram can be as routine as breathing, and costs about as much. And while social media apps can keep students in touch with each other, there could be a hidden price: their mental health. 

Many students are challenged with the task of balancing the stress and anxieties of schoolwork, as well as their very own mental health. According to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, young people who spend more than three hours per day on social media are more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other illnesses, and are more likely to internalize bad feelings about themselves. “It’s not just the amount of time that is important for most kids. For example, two teenagers could use social media for exactly the same amount of time but may have vastly different outcomes as a result of the way they are using it,” said Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University.

Social media has the power to connect people across the globe and sustain relationships that might otherwise not exist. For many, social media provides an escape from the daily realities of life and enables one to decompress and view the world from an outside lens. While teens can use social media to connect and create friendships with others, they also confront toxic comparisons, sleep deprivation, and less frequent face-to-face interactions, to name a few negatives. Too much time spent scrolling through social media can result in symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. The need to gain “likes” on social media can cause teens to make choices they would otherwise not make, including altering their appearance, engaging in negative behaviors, and conforming to its superficial nature. 

Though many teens know that a majority of the time, their peers share only positive, happy posts on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. On social media, everything from body image to perceived successes are under a microscope. Oak Hall underclassman, A.Z. can relate to the aforementioned study, her experience with social media, and the impacts it has on her own mental health. “I’ve been struggling with that [eating disorder] lately, just with food in general. The impact of what you look like. No one should be ashamed of who they are or what they look like,” she said. This loss of self-esteem is often displayed when teens compare themselves negatively with artfully curated images of those who appear to be prettier, thinner, more popular, etc. Society has utilized social media as a platform to further these toxic messages. “It can make you happy, but it can also destroy your self-esteem in so many ways,” said A.Z. 

Provided below are some tips to help cope inside the world of social media: 

  • Turn off your notifications for at least a few hours each day (which you can gradually increase); put your phone in “Airplane” mode or “Do Not Disturb”.
  • Delete apps that contribute to an unhealthy body image or other feelings of inadequacy. Add apps that help you feel better about yourself or inspire you to engage in healthy behaviors. Meditation apps can be a better use of your time (for example: Calm, Insight Timer, and Headspace). 
  • Follow accounts that make you happy. Don’t subject yourself to negativity online. 
  • Take a day off from social media to focus on other things. It’s okay to cleanse yourself from the social media world. You deserve it. 
  • Consider putting your phone in grayscale. This makes your phone less enticing to look at. With the colorful apps and notifications changed to gray, they may be easier to ignore.
  • Set boundaries or only certain times when you can check your notifications.
  • Make a plan with a group of friends to spend more time hanging out in person and less time interacting via social media.

When misused, social media can be incredibly dangerous for one’s mental health. When used effectively, social media has the power to educate. Oak Hall Sophomore, Taylor Simmons enjoys utilizing his social media platforms for the purpose of learning and educating himself about issues important to him. “I feel rather unmoved by social media,” he shared. Social media has become a source of information and news for many teens. Once they begin social networking, they can follow just about anyone with a social media account; from favorite authors and athletes to public figures, nonprofit organizations, and magazines.

Teens can also gather information about issues that impact them or their friends on apps like Twitter. For instance, if they are concerned a friend might have an eating disorder or be suffering from depression, they can gather information about it based off the profiles they follow. Or, if they want to learn more about a presidential election, climate change, or even find new ways to eat healthily, they can do so on their social media accounts. In many ways, social media has opened up the doors for open communication and education. 

Roxanne Gay, award winning writer, said boldly, “Social media is something of a double-edged sword. At its best, social media offers unprecedented opportunities for marginalized people to speak and bring much needed attention to the issues they face. At its worst, social media also offers ‘everyone’ an unprecedented opportunity to share in collective outrage without reflection.”