I don’t know about you, but I am constantly reaching for my phone throughout the day; I spend five to six hours on it daily. Most of that time is taken up by social media. I just have to check who snapped me back, see if the BeReal has gone off, contemplate my next Instagram post, or mindless scroll on TikTok. (Seriously-- the amount of times I’ve scrolled on TikTok while just writing this first paragraph is criminal.) While these activities take up a significant amount of my time, they rarely bring me any joy. I often feel trapped in the cycle of scrolling. There are more productive things I would rather be doing, but I’m not able to tear myself away from my phone, even if I’m not enjoying it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s valuable content on social media, but it’s often interspersed in useless or destructive content. Not only does this content worsen my mode, but it also distances me from my loved ones. My parents, and even my older sister, love to tell me, “Put down that d#mn phone!” Though I might be a little more addicted than most, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
I polled 158 students from our North Scott High School and 66.7% of them wished they spent less time on social media. 33.8% of them went as far as to say social media had an effect on their mental health with an additional 38.2% unsure if it had an effect. The general consensus of that 33.8% was that social media negatively impacted their mental health because it perpetuates unrealistic standards. It’s easy to find someone more attractive, talented, or accomplished than you when using social media. It makes people wonder, “If they can do it, why can’t I?” Though the influencers people compare themselves to typically have more time and resources than the average high school student, it’s all too easy to feed into the competitive nature of social media. Students also explained that the cycle of scrolling evokes feelings of guilt and frustration. Some students pointed out how scrolling through content produces an unnatural amount of dopamine in the brain, causing the user to feel irritated after getting off of social media due to dopamine loss. That being said, a handful of students highlighted the positive impact social media has made on their lives. They explained how social media helped them connect with new people, find new interests, and cope with mental issues.
One student shares that “social media has helped me realize that I am not alone. In addition, personal stories shared by content creators have helped me figure out who I am and understand that grief and struggle is ok. I try my best to only take in media that benefits my health, and I think I have done well so far.”
So, there is a population that utilizes social media to improve their mental health.
Despite this population, research shows that adolescents' use of social media is associated with health issues. The most prevalent of these issues are depression, anxiety, and addiction. Secondary effects include unhealthy eating habits, behavioral issues, online grooming, and more. These correlations have increased in recent years; the COVID-19 lockdown led to an increase in children’s social media participation as kids tried to fill their time spent at home. While the pandemic’s effects have largely dissipated, we still see large amounts of children on social media including young children. Children aged eight to twelve have an average daily screen time of five hours and 33 minutes. Before my teenage years, I had little to no experience with social media. Instead, my parents encouraged me to read, play with toys, and explore the outdoors. Even technology like TV and computer games were limited to 30 minutes a day. While it bothered me at the time, I’m now extremely grateful for the way I was raised as it helped me realize that it’s much better to form your own experiences than live vicariously through a screen. The future generation may not be as lucky. They will be much more likely to face the health issues listed and suffer the consequences of unrealistic standards described by North Scott students because they will be experiencing social media during a much more vulnerable stage of development.
Despite these issues, social media is not going away any time soon. It is becoming an integral form of communication in our ever-changing society. It should not be the goal to completely shield minors from social media. Instead, they should be taught responsibility and moderation. Parents should monitor what apps and content their young children consume and educate them on potential dangers. In turn, older teens should focus on consuming beneficial content that enhances their lives instead of taking from it. While social media will always have its dangers, being aware of them will not only limit its liabilities but also allow this generation to take advantage of its assets.