Adverse Effects of Social Media on Adolescents

Social media is beneficial and consequential to adolescents as it influences various phases of their development. Teenagers are among the highest internet users globally, making the influence of social media a serious phenomenon. Social media has been damaging to the overall well-being of adolescents globally, mainly affecting their self-presentation, self-esteem, and mental well-being. However, some benefits of social media include improved mediated social networking where issues like distance and time are not an issue. Also, adolescents can utilize social media as an educational platform to learn foundational knowledge beneficial to their cognitive and behavioral growth. The current study argues for social media’s negative impact and influence on adolescents’ well-being. The guiding research question is: Do social media standards affect adolescents’ self-esteem and self-image? Concerning the transformation brought by science and technology, proponents of social media may argue about the empowering influence of social media on adolescents; the platform can have damaging effects on a teen’s mental health, self-esteem, and self-image, and can be an underlying factor to suicide ideation and attempts among the young users.

First, adolescence marks transitioning from childhood to adulthood, a phase in which the majority population idealizes their self-image as negatively influenced by technology. Social media exposes users to a vast virtual environment where adolescents can interact with friends worldwide. “As adolescents increasingly rely on social media photographs and videos as means for self-presentation, the majority of them are likely to have a distorted self-image” (Steinsbekk et al. 1). Approximately 94% of adolescents in developed countries are active on various social media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Facebook (Steinsbekk et al. 1). The figures show how the majority of adolescents embrace social media as means of self-representation. On various social media platforms, developers avail various image-enhancing tools that allow users to present a distorted image to their followers. When teenagers engage in such virtual presentational activities, they develop a distorted online self-image that cannot be achieved in real-life. The majority of them find it challenging to accept their actual self-image because of what has been constructed virtually, making adolescents have conflicting personalities in real-life.

Equally importantly, a damaging effect of social media on adolescents targets their self-esteem. Steinsbekk et al. argue that adolescents are concerned with likes and comments that their social media posts attract from online peers, a pattern that has severe implications on individual perception of self-worth (p. 1). As already discovered, social media tends to create an appearance environment that is challenging for most users. From physical appearance to lifestyle implications, teenagers are pressured by the fake virtual life, which can damage their self-esteem. When teen social media user identifies a gap between their perceived and ideal self as influenced by various online platforms, they are likely to develop negative emotions such as disappointment, sadness, and feeling irrelevant, constituting low self-esteem (Steinsbekk et al. 2). The low self-esteem further develops when an adolescent discovers that their peers are active on social media and attract more likes and comments to their post than them. The trend shows that social media can severely damage an adolescent’s self-esteem.

Further, social media negatively affects the mental state of adolescents, especially when they spend many ties on their digital devices. An observational study established that spending much time on social media correlates negatively with adolescents self-reported satisfaction and happiness, affecting their overall mental health status (Abi-Jaoude et al.). On the other hand, spending time in in-person activities such as social interactions, physical exercise, sports, paid jobs, homework, and religious activities improve adolescents’ psychological well-being (Abi-Jaoude et al.). The comparison shows that social media replaced constructive lifestyle practices for adolescents, exposing them to various mental health complications. Related to mental health complications linked to social media, adolescents can develop an addiction to various online platforms and devices. Social media have been craftily designed to promote behavioral reinforcement and addiction among users (Abi-Jaoude et al.). Most teenagers cannot function without using social media on a daily or sometimes hourly basis. As a result, they develop an addiction that qualifies as a significant mental health problem that can be complicated to manage or treat. Besides the underlying psychological disorders, online content has been identified to promote suicide ideation and attempts among adolescents. A study involving 400 youths hospitalized in psychiatry reported suicide-provoking online content that influenced their self-harm decisions and actions two weeks before engaging in such fatal behavior (Nesi 118). Most countries do not regulate online content creating an effective platform for criminals to target and prey on adolescents. Most online users targeting teens are aware of their mental and psychological vulnerability. Also, all forms of cyberbullying victimization can result in suicide ideation and attempt. Cyberbullies make adolescents question their self-worth, mainly when they target their physical presentation (Nesi 119). Exposure to cyberbullying on social media makes a teenager develop depressive symptoms. As a result, adolescents may become suicidal if they fail to control the various mental health conditions acquired, especially severe depression.

However, social media as an interactive platform can mentally benefit an adolescent. Various benefits linked to social media include entertaining and humorous content with a creative ability for the users to express themselves (Nesi 119). Humor and entertainment have been scientifically proven to elevate a person’s mood. In the case of adolescents, the creative and entertaining content on social media can help them overcome various emotional permeability experienced during this stage. An adolescent undergoes several biological transformations, a growth phase that requires appropriately managed to avoid any form of emotional outburst that could prove fatal to the overall mental state of an adolescent. In that case, the laughter achieved through adolescents’ utilization of entertaining social media platforms has growth benefits for them. Also, social media issues online social support for adolescents, especially those with limited physical and social circles. Human beings are social, and limited interaction can harm a teenager. Adolescents who identify with a minority population, such as LGBTQ, acquire a supportive online community of friends who provide crucial emotional support to feel like they belong (Nesi 119). In that case, social media creates an interactive virtual environment for adolescents, widening their social involvement universally, a function that helps mitigate various mental health complications by helping users acquire emotional stability.

To summarize, social media’s adverse effects on adolescents outweigh the benefits. Various online platforms have been associated with encouraging a false self-image representation and lowering self-esteem, which could interfere with the normal developmental process of the victim. Also, an adolescent is prone to cyberbullying victimization through social media. As a result, they are prone to developing severe mental health complications, including depression and addiction. Still, through humor and entertainment, social media can be instrumental in improving adolescents’ mental health and other psychosocial needs. Generally, social media is more damaging than beneficial to adolescents.

References

Abi-Jaoude, E., Naylor, K, T., & Pignatiello, A. “Smartphones, social media use, and youth mental health. Canadian Medical Assoication Journal, vol. 192, no. 6, 2020, p. 136141, https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.190434

Nesi, J. “The impact of social media on youth mental health: Challenges and opportunities.” North Carolina Medical Journal, vol. 81, no. 2, 2020, p. 116-121.

Steinsbekk, S., Wichstrom, L., Stenseng, F., Nesi, J., Hygen, B, W., & Skalicka, V. “The impact of social media use on appearance self-esteem from childhood to adolescence- a 3-wave community study.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 114, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106528

Author: Ariane Brunet
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