Are Social Media Beneficial or Harmful to the Mental Health of Teenagers?

The rate of suicide among teens is increasing drastically due to social media.

According to a study released by the US Department of Health and Human Services in September 2020, the suicide rate for children and adolescents increased by 57.4% from 2007 to 2018. It is only second to accidents as the leading cause of mortality among adolescents (Squires). Social media can be both beneficial and harmful to teenagers’ mental health, but they are more harmful than beneficial overall because teenagers are exposed to cyberbullying, body image issues, substance addiction, and sleep deprivation. 

What is the definition of cyberbullying? Cyberbullying is when someone uses internet communication to bully another person, usually by sending intimidating or threatening messages. Another person or group can cyberbully a person by making unpleasant comments or transmitting inappropriate images or videos of the person they are targeting. Bullying is a pattern of actions that are repeated on a regular basis. Bullying is not defined by a single exchange of hurtful words or humiliating remarks (Miller 10-11). 

Gossip, harsh comments, threats, embarrassment, and exclusion are just some of the ways someone might cyberbully another individual. All of this can be accomplished by calling, texting, or leaving messages. Cyberbullying can take place on a variety of social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. A bully may create a fake profile to troll or impersonate the victim by posting derogatory information about them (Miller 12-14). A survey was taken in 2017 by students in grades nine through twelve asking if they have ever been bullied electronically over the last twelve months via texting, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media. About half of the students said they were victims of cyberbullying and didn’t know the identity of their bully (Miller 13). 

Why does cyberbullying happen? Because the abusers are not in direct contact with their victims, this occurs. Those who post harsh remarks on social media are blind to the pain they inflict on others. Because they assume they are acting anonymously, they lose their sense of humanity. As they are hiding behind a screen, cyberbullies believe they will never be discovered or have to face the repercussions of their acts. This is where they are deceived. When a digital device connects to the internet, it is issued a unique collection of digits known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. The IP address can be used to track data and conversations transmitted from that device. The address can subsequently be linked to the individual by digital service providers of social media (Miller 20-21).

Teens might be negatively affected by excessive online use since it can distract them, impair their sleep, and expose them to bullying, rumors spreading unrealistic views of other people’s lives, and peer pressure. A 2019 research study of over 6,500 twelve-to fifteen-year-olds in the United States indicated that individuals who spend more than three hours per day on social media may be at higher risk for mental health issues. Other research has found a relationship between excessive social media use and depression or anxiety symptoms. Greater social media use, midnight social media use, and emotional involvement in social media — such as feeling angry when unable to go online — were all connected to poor sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and despair in a 2016 research study of more than 450 teenagers (“How to Help”). 

A new study by researchers at University College London looked at the psychological impact of social media on teenagers over the course of three years, starting when they were thirteen years old. The teenagers self-reported their mood and well-being as a result of their social media encounters. The authors of the study determined that three key reasons influence the social media effect on teenagers: teens don’t get enough sleep because they are up late to keep scrolling through their social media accounts, teens are subjected to cyberbullying, and teens sit for greater lengths of time and had less time for physical activity. As a result, they missed out on the mental health benefits of exercise (Monroe). 

Peer pressure is defined as the direct or indirect impact on people or peers in social groupings that have similar interests, experiences, or social status. Peer group members have a greater chance of influencing a person’s beliefs or behavior. A group or individual may be encouraged to follow their peers’ attitudes, values, or actions by adjusting their attitudes, values, or behaviors to match the influencing group’s or individual’s. Peer pressure can have a positive or negative influence on the person who is subjected to it or both. Peer pressure or peer influence is not always negative; it may also be constructive, but peer pressure online is more destructive than beneficial. Peer pressure’s negative effects can lead to some teens engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse.

Peer pressure among teenagers is an issue whether or not they use social media, but when social media and peer pressure are combined, it can be very harmful. The pressure to use drugs and alcohol was once thought to be limited to social gatherings, but with the rise of social media, a new environment has emerged that encourages teens to abuse substances. According to research, up to 75% of adolescents felt pressured to drink alcohol or use drugs after witnessing their peers do so on social media (“How Social Media”). Teens have more access to social media than they possibly should. It’s a free-for-all for teenagers who want to get their hands on drugs. When a person uses social media to arrange a drug trade with a friend or stranger, it is known as social media drug dealing. This suggests that teenagers are purchasing narcotics via social media. This is harmful to kids’ health because they are attempting to self-medicate with something they believe they can control, but it can lead to addiction (“How Social Media”). 

Self-esteem among teenagers is a crucial component of bullying. It all comes back to social media because people create “norms” that everyone attempts to adhere to in order to feel accepted by society. Body image is particularly important for girls’ self-esteem. Women and girls are posting their bodies nearly everywhere on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok because it’s a trend. Females are under pressure to look a certain way in order to be considered “pretty” because the tendency is so prevalent. To be acceptable on social media, they must work out every day, eat healthily, have an hourglass figure, and wear no makeup. Because the stress of needing to appear a specific way affects female teenagers, some try to self-medicate or push themselves to the point of sickness (Fleps).

Although social media have a lot of disadvantages, they also have advantages. Teens, particularly those who have been excluded, or who have disabilities or illnesses, can benefit from the internet (“How to Help”). Social media are also used by teenagers for recreation and self-expression. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow adolescents to communicate with people from all over the world and teach them new skills, such as how to make Cajun pasta. Things that happen on social media that are amusing and distracting can create a genuine connection with peers, and a social network may even help kids avoid depression (“How to Help”). 

Another benefit of social media is the outpouring of support from people all over the world who want to help spread awareness about problems they may be facing. In 2018 collegiate softball player Alex Wilcox died from ovarian cancer; she was only a freshman at Mississippi State. To help raise awareness of the disease the Mississippi State program and the rest of the SEC honored her with an “All For Alex” campaign. To represent Alex and the fight against ovarian cancer all 13 teams in the SEC and the softball community wear teal (the color representing ovarian cancer) to show their support for the former player. The Mississippi State Bulldogs continue this tradition to this day with the #NoOneFightsAlone campaign by wearing teal uniforms during midweek games. By sharing this hashtag and information all over, social media have helped to raise awareness for anyone who is fighting or lost their fight to ovarian cancer. 

Social media are a great way to help build relationships over the internet. A lot of people do this to meet new friends and to stay in touch with relatives, friends, and significant others. In a Research Center Report, 81% of teens took a survey stating that social media makes them feel more connected with what’s going on in their friends’ lives (Monroe). In addition, two-thirds of teens said that when using the platforms makes them feel as if they have people who will support them during tough times (Monroe). Especially during the pandemic, social media were how the majority of people communicated. It became a frequent pastime and sometimes the only way teens interacted with each other. When the world shut down a lot of people fell into depression, but with social media, teens found ways to stay upbeat and try to make do with what they had (Monroe).  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), population-level awareness, education, and services are critical in helping patients of all ages avoid suicide. Teens can benefit from spending time offline to have more face-to-face interactions with their peers. When used properly, social media can be an excellent tool for forming new connections. It’s also critical that members of the community try to assist troubled teenagers. Schools can assist by creating a secure and supportive atmosphere in which teenagers feel heard and respected. Parents and families should maintain an open line of communication in their homes so that teenagers feel understood. Teenagers adore being connected with their parents, especially if they are supportive of their children. Healthcare practitioners may assist teenagers by inquiring about their home lives and reassuring them that they are available to help. They can also assist by informing both parents and teenagers about adolescent growth and any potential health risks (“Mental Health”).

As technology progresses, teen mental health will worsen significantly, but after researching strategies to reduce internet usage and cyberbullying, this will become less of a concern. While social media may be destructive to teens’ mental health it can also be very helpful. Cyberbullying, body image issues, substance abuse, and sleep deprivation don’t appear to be going away anytime soon, but we can find new solutions to tackle the problems that come with social media’s evolution. Every new generation of kids is vulnerable to the dangers of social media, so what will you do to break the pattern that continues to harm our youth’s mental health?

 

Works Cited 

Fleps, Bella. “Social Media Effects on Body Image and Eating Disorders.”  Illinois State University, 21 Apr. 2021, news.illinoisstate.edu/2021/04/social-media-effects-on-body-image-and-eating-disorders/. Accessed 30 Apr. 2022.

“How to Help Your Teen Navigate Social Media.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Feb. 2022, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/teens-and-social-media-use/art-20474437. Accessed 3 Apr. 2022. 

“How Social Media Influences Teens.” High Impact, https://youthtrainingsolutions.com/news/how-social-media-influences-teens/. 

 “Is Social Media Threatening Teens’ Mental Health and Well-Being?” Health Matters, NewYork-Presbyterian, 14 Mar. 2022, healthmatters.nyp.org/is-social-media-threatening-teens-mental-health-and-well-being/. Accessed 12 Apr. 2022.

“Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 May 2021, www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/mental-health/index.htm. Accessed 5 Apr. 2022.

Miller, Marie-Thérèse. Teens and Cyberbullying. ReferencePoint Press, 2020. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=2548360&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 12 Apr. 2022.

Monroe, Jamison. “The Effect of Social Media on Teenagers.” Newport Academy. Newport Academy, 14 July 2021. www.newportacademy.com/resources/well-being/effect-of-social-media-on-teenagers/ Accessed 13 April 2022.

Squires, Allie. “Social Media, Self-Esteem, and Teen Suicide.” PCC Blog, 23 Sept. 2020, blog.pcc.com/social-media-self-esteem-and-teen-suicide. Accessed 12 Apr. 2022.

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