A decade ago, face-to-face interaction was key to creating and maintaining any kind of relationship. Today with the advancement of social technology and easy access to high-speed internet, a simple smartphone has enabled users to communicate faster and easier. Proximity is no longer important when someone can create a connection with another person thousands of miles away. Social media has given teenagers a sense of identity and community that most feel is lacking in their everyday lives. Digital communication has altered the way we think, act and live, so much, that it has become our primary way of staying connected. Our smartphones are the first thing we look at when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we check at night. Although technology has given us the opportunity to have numerous sources of information at our fingertips, not everyone may understand or accept the consequences that may correlate with this new addiction.
According to a report by Common Sense Media, teens (ages 13-18) in the United States spend about 9 hours of their day using social media for their enjoyment. That is more time than they spend sleeping, in class or researching for their school assignments (Wallace). What’s more alarming is that social media has unknowingly become the addicting new drug of our generation. The amount of time an average teenager spends daily on their various social platforms has the potential to critically impact their psychological well-being, by promoting low self-esteem, influencing social isolation or withdrawal, and causing long-term effects on brain development and cognitive skills. Social media can have a negative effect on teenagers’ self-esteem by forcing them to compare themselves to their peers.
The need to fit a perfect mold along with unrealistic expectations has caused more teen anxiety, self-loathing and the onset of cyberbullying. Self-loathing begins with constantly viewing their peers online highlight reels, leaving them feeling inadequate and depressed; creating a distorted belief that their personal life doesn’t measure up. Teens post doctored and provocative photos of themselves showcasing a life this isn’t always true.
These doctored photos influence teens to compare their lives with their friends; assuming that everyone else is living their happily-ever-after, except for them. Another negative aspect of social media comes in the form of a social post that is written with the intentions of sharing false, hurtful information about another individual. The goal is to ruin another person’s reputation in a harassing and intimidating manner – this is called cyberbullying. These hurtful comments often cause a deep depression, eating disorders and in extreme cases, it can lead to suicidal tendencies. According to Cyberbullying statistics from the i-SAFE foundation: “Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have been engaged in cyberbullying” (“cyberbullying statistics”).I have witnessed first hand the effects this can have on an individual. My high school friend was a victim of cyberbullying.
He was continually criticized about his athletic abilities and personal characteristics by a group of people he called his friends. He found himself asking these ‘friends’ if they wanted to hang out for the night. Often times they would say they going to stay in. In the hours that passed, he would see posts they shared online showing them hanging out and having a good time. This happened multiple times and with each incident, it hurt him a little bit more. Over time, I noticed he was withdrawing from the group and looked depressed. Then, late one evening he texted stating he was done and expressed his thoughts on suicide. He told me he had no friends, was ashamed of his body figure, and did not fit in.
I was caught completely off guard, there was a person I cared about, telling me they wanted to end their life. I attempted to cheer him up; telling him I was the only friend he needed, but he was so depressed that he would not even accept that. Even though I worried about betraying his trust, I reached out to one of our teachers for help. Fortunately, my story doesn’t end badly, but that isn’t the case for a lot teens in these situations.
Social media plays an important role in how we gain information and interact with those around us, however, the addictive nature of this platform is bad because it promotes social isolation in teenagers. Supporting information shows, “Victims experience lack of acceptance in the peer groups, which results in loneliness and social isolation, social withdrawal” (Claster). Most people assume that creating relationships with people you’ve never met in person is a good thing, except when those virtual relationships end up becoming artificial and unsatisfying. So what happens when a teen finds it difficult to create social connections or worse, what happens when a teen spends so much time building relationships in only 140 characters, that they don’t have the skills to engage in face-to-face interactions? These teens become socially awkward which often result in being rejected by their peers. Most people fear loneliness, they alleviate this feeling by creating virtual relationships. For teens that are feeling the struggles of fitting in, the internet acts like a safety blanket providing a sense of security; keeping them safe from social humiliation and rejection. Aside from driving isolation, social media is bad because it can directly impact a person’s ability to effectively learn and communicate, ultimately affecting their future. Communication skills are at risk because as teens use more slang and shorthand to communicate online, they often forget how to create deep emotional connections.
This often leads to teens feeling awkward and out of place in community environments because they cannot properly convey their thoughts without using the same language they use online. Proper etiquette and the need to read body language and facial expressions are no longer an important asset which is essential to everyday life, especially as these teens start to get jobs.