The Power of Pictures: Social Media’s Effect on Adolescents
Social media is defining a generation’s need for technology. Over 90% of U.S adults ages 18-29 use at least one social media site (Perrin and Anderson). Furthermore, teenagers find social media addicting. 94% of teens that go online using a mobile device, do so daily (Perrin and Anderson). One key example of this is the story of a Californian teenager named Brooke. (Strauss et al.) Brooke was given her first phone as a birthday gift. Shortly after, she was obsessed “It was always about refreshing my feed and I’d stay up until like 4:30 in the morning…It was my heart. I couldn’t put it down … It felt like a part of me.” Brooke said during the interview. Eventually Brooke started receiving treatment for excessive social media use, substance abuse, and mental health (Strauss et al.). This shows an alarming problem for adolescents, that creates extensive and underlying issues for the future of our younger generation. Granted there are some positive effects of social media; however, as a whole, social media is damaging to young adults and adolescents alike.
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To begin, social media use creates many problems concerning academic issues in adolescents. Students who use social media tend to have problems regarding attention and focus overall. Social media create distractions for students, interfering with their ability to regulate themselves during class, affecting cognitive learning abilities including memory both long and short term. (Emerick, Caldarella and Black, 265). Moreover, a study conducted in undergraduate college courses showed that students who weren’t using social media during class retained 62% more information during class (Kuznekoff and Titsworth). In addition, social media can be detrimental to adolescents time managing abilities.
Social media is hard to put down because of their constant updates to the sites keeping adolescents frequently entertained online. Not only do these things impair the people using them, they also impair the other students around them with constant notifications and noises stemming from social media use (Emerick, Caldarella and Black, 265). These constant attention grabbers cause adolescents to be continually sidetracked from studies, therefore causing less completion of assignments and overall worse grades.
In addition, social media causes concerns with academic honesty. During a separate study conducted by Deborah Tindell and Robert Bohlander, researchers were able to find that 10% of students within the study admitted to using a cell phone during an exam to either receive a text or send one (1). Students use information stored on their cellphones to gain an advantage academically on exams and other matters of academics. Students obtain this information through social media platforms by means of forums, blogs and twitter where collaboration and help for academic questions were found to fuel academic dishonesty on exams. Cheating on exams can also become contagious to other students. “If students witness or believe that plagiarism achieves results, they can feel pressured to do the same in order to meet what they feel are unrealistic expectations” said author Vasyl Taras regarding social media’s ability to create narratives for students that make it seem like cheating is normal if their other peers participate in it (Taras). Overall, the consuming characteristics of social media lead to issues with short and long term memory. Along with the academic dishonesty, leading to increased cheating.
To contrast, social media can have positive effects by creating enhanced interactions and communications amongst adolescents. Social media gives teens and adolescents a chance to interact with fellow peers online in a safer environment compared to real world social interactions, in some cases creating opportunities for new friendships to be developed that otherwise wouldn’t have been accessible with the absence of these social platforms. As Lauren May, a freelance writer and frequent traveler said, “Social media can help teenagers who might struggle to communicate offline to develop their social skills in a space where they can have more time to think about their actions and find people who share their interests.”(May) Even more, social media presents adolescents with opportunities for debate and conversation, which teaches the ability to discuss a variety of topics that can help in real world interactions and settings.
Furthermore, Adolescents use social media as a way to express themselves to others online. 42% of teens are creating characters, avatars or anime to express themselves across their social media profiles (“Social Media Statistics”). This can show that adolescents have more confidence expressing themselves online, which in turn can create better interactions online as adolescents feel more open to being themselves online. Social media can also create connectivity between different cultures around the world. The photos posted online show adolescents different ways of life around the world. For context there are 3.5 billion social media users around the world (Ortiz-Ospina), therefore, adolescents are able to understand more about the cultural differences in the world around them. Social media can help teach adolescents about current events foreign and abroad to help educate them on world issues that they otherwise would not be as involved in. In brief, social media’s ability to allow adolescents to freely express themselves. Including the communication skills it teaches, create positive interactions and communications stemming from social media.
Consequently, social media as a whole creates a false narrative for adolescents about their peers when viewing social media platforms. To begin, sites like facebook and instagram that have a like feature on their applications, create uncertainty in adolescents about their worth amongst their peers and society. As stated by the National Center for Health Research, a non-profit health organization, “In particular, Facebook can make kids feel inadequate due to the “in-your-face” friend tallies, status updates, and pictures of others having a good time”(Mir and Novas). Therefore adolescents must deal with feeling a loss of self-worth amongst other adolescents. Another example of this false narrative is the missing attributes of a person online that would be evident in a real-life setting. Adolescents only
post their best qualities online, choosing what to reveal about themselves also minimizing their negative characteristics (Mir and Novas). This is also restated by positive feedback loops by peers, making adolescents feel a sense of worthlessness in real life as they see others visibly fail from time to time.
Additionally, social media creates problems concerning body image in adolescents. These adolescents compare themselves to one another due to their “self-construal mindset” (Prieler and Choi, 380) stating that adolescents are more upward comparison oriented towards one another. This means that when others see photos online that make them feel worse about themselves, adolescents become more vulnerable to negative consequences of comparison. These include unhealthy eating behaviors, body dissatisfaction and risky types of cosmetic surgery, hoping to boost their self esteem in comparing themselves to other peers (Prieler and Choi, 380). In totality, the unhealthy system of liking, as well as the ability to hide blemishes and undesirable characteristics lead to concern in body image. These issues within social media create a false narrative for adolescents.
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Concerningly, social media has negative effects on the mental health of adolescents. As adolescents use social media more frequently, mental health issues increase as well. A study found that students who visited social media platforms at least 58 times per week were three times as likely to feel socially isolated compared to student’s who used the platforms less than nine times per week (Mir and Novas).These effects of social isolation can be detrimental to adolescents. Similarly, according to the Pew Reasearch Center, “adolescents who spend more than 5 hours on social media a day are 71% more likely to have at least one risk factor of suicide compared to adolescents who used the sites less than one hour per day” (Mir and Novas). In the same way as the first statistic, the overlying theme of these statistics is that increased use of social media sites leads to increased mental health problems for adolescents.
Following this point, it can also be shown that social media can cause addiction in adolescents. A study by psychologists found that 5-10% of Americans reach the criteria for social media addiction (Hillard). This type of addiction can be characterized as a behavioral addiction, caused by an overly concerned reaction to social media as well as the uncontrollable urge to log into these sites. The other component of this behavioral addiction is the action of devoting so much time to social media that it impairs more important life areas (Hillard). Overall, this research shows that social media addiction is a real problem that can distort the importance of certain life areas, making adolescents believe that social media is more important to their everyday lives than it actually is.
Lastly, social media can show mental problems regarding adolescents abilities to sleep due to social media. Humans used to spend time during the evening in darkness with the absence of artificial light. Research has found that this inhibits the body’s ability to produce melatonin, a bodily hormone that helps regulate the body’s ability to sleep. Along with melatonin, blue lights, emitted from laptops and cell phones, can be the main culprit for loss of sleep amongst adolescents (Hillard). Regarding the issue with physiological sleep problems at night due to social media use, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh said that “this could be caused by physiological arousal before sleep, and the bright lights of our devices can delay circadian rhythms” (Hillard). To summarize circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycle that living creatures follow on a daily pattern. These rhythms are cycled on light and dark patterns which are affected by unnatural light at night, stemming from social media use (“Circadian Rhythms”). Alarmingly, social media’s negative effects on mental health lead to multiple issues in adolescents. These effects lead to isolation, technology addiction and sleep deprivation, which can all be harmful and damaging to all adolescents alike.
Evidently, social media is damaging to adolescents and a big concern in today’s society. Mental health along with academic struggles and the overall deceiving perception of social media are key contributing factors to the negative effects of social media as a whole, and outweigh the good effects of social media. Therefore, it is important in everyday life to experience the outside world around you to keep yourself fresh and healthy, and put down the phone!
- “Circadian Rhythms.” National Institute of General Medical Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Aug. 2017, www.nigms.nih.gov/education/pages/factsheet_circadianrhythms.aspx.
- Emerick, Emily, Caldarella, Paul, Black, Sharon. et al. “Benefits and Distractions of Social Media as Tools for Undergraduate Student Learning.” College Student Journal, vol. 53, no. 3, Fall 2019, p. 265. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=138805551&site=eds-live.
- Hillard, Jena. “Social Media Addiction – Addiction Center.” AddictionCenter, 22 Aug. 2019, www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/.
- Kuznekoff, Jeffery H., Titsworth, Scott. . The impact of mobile phone usage on student learning. Communi- cation Education, 62, 233-252. doi:10.1080/036345 23.2013.767917
- May, Lauren. “Positive Effects of Social Media on Your Teen.” Family Orbit Blog, 19 July 2019, www.familyorbit.com/blog/the-positive-effects-of-social-media-on-your-teen/.
- Mir, Elina, and Caroline, Novas. “Social Media and Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Mental Health.” National Center for Health Research, 17 Oct. 2018, www.center4research.org/social-media-affects-mental-health/.
- Ortiz-Ospina, Esteban. “The Rise of Social Media.” Our World in Data, 18 Sept. 2019, ourworldindata.org/rise-of-social-media/.
- Perrin, Andrew, and Monica, Anderson. “Share of U.S. Adults Using Social Media, Including Facebook, Is Mostly Unchanged since 2018.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 10 Apr. 2019, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/10/share-of-u-s-adults-using-social-media-including-facebook-is-mostly-unchanged-since-2018/.
- Prieler, Michael, and Jounghwa, Choi. “Broadening the Scope of Social Media Effect Research on Body Image Concerns.” Sex Roles, vol. 71, no. 11–12, Dec. 2014, pp. 378–388. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0406-4.
- “Social Media Statistics.” GuardChild, 2019, www.guardchild.com/social-media-statistics-2/.
- Strauss, Eric M., et al. “How This Teen Fell into a World of Secret Sexting, Alcohol and Drugs.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 16 May 2017, abcnews.go.com/US/teen-fell-world-secret-sexting-alcohol-drugs/story?id=47425450.
- Taras, Vasyl. “How Social Media Encourages Plagiarism (and Six Ways You Can Fight It) – EdSurge News.” EdSurge, UNICHECK, 27 Dec. 2018, www.edsurge.com/news/2017-11-13-how-social-media-encourages-plagiarism-and-six-ways-you-can-fight-it.
- Tindell D., & Bohlander, R. The use and abuse of cell phones and text messaging in the class- room: A survey of college students. College Teach- ing, 60(1), 1-9, doi: 10.1080/87567555.2011.604802
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