Social media, use or abuse?

By a show of hands, let me know who here is a social media user? Who has any social media account?

Now, raise your hand if you consider yourself a frequent user? What I mean by this is: Do you check your social media feeds multiple times during the day.

The use of social media networks is as common as eating or sleeping these days, especially for younger generations. However, there is a lot of debate if the use of these platforms is appropriate for teenagers or not.

Some research shows that the use of social media might make disorders such as ADHD, teen depression, oppositional defiant disorder, and teen anxiety worse.

However, new research counteracts these findings. A new study found that overall teen well-being goes down with the use of digital technology, but four per cent at most.

There is, however, some common ground where experts agree that the effects of social media use among teenagers undermine their mental health.

One of these elements is social comparison. Teens spend much of their time observing the lives and images of their peers; this leads to constant comparison, and this can damage self-esteem and body image. Moreover, it can lead to depression, particularly teen girls.

In general, teens report lower self-esteem and self-evaluation when looking peers on facebook and other social media sites.

They also report feeling better about themselves when making the so-called downward comparison — looking at profiles with fewer friends and achievements.

Another element is an increased risk to find spaces (forums) where teenagers encourage unhealthy and dangerous behaviours such as eating disorders or self-harm. However, social media can also inspire teenagers to develop healthy habits.

We have to consider that all this happens during the adolescence when peer approval and friendship are critical. As a result, social media supports the drive to connect with peers with both negative and positive effects.

On the one hand, teens say that they feel more connected to what is going on in their friends’ lives. On the other hand, they also spend more time with their friends online that they do it in person or at school.

Finally, addiction can be an effect of social media on teenagers. Scientists have found that social media overuse creates stimulation brain patterns similar to the patterns created by other addictive behaviours. Hence, the brain responds to social media the same way it responds to other “rewards”: releasing dopamine.

So, the big question is: what can be done to ensure teenagers safely use social media?

Fortunately, the answer is not very complicated. However, the implementation of it requires work and commitment from parents and guardians.

The first step is to observe the law! All social media sites have a minimum age requirement to open an account. In most cases is 13 years of age. Sadly, many parents do now intervene and in a large study conducted in Europe found that in the population aged 10 to 18 years, 78% of children under 13 had social media accounts.

The experts’ recommendation is to encourage the kids under 13 to engage in activities such as active playing, socializing and reading paper books. This requires creativity and commitment from parents and teachers to create an environment that promotes these activities and manages peer pressure.

The second step is to talk to the teens about what social networks are, the benefits and the potential risks. Once they are old enough to open an account legally, the experts agree that the mental structure is mature enough to understand this.

Additionally, teenagers require close monitoring of the content that they are exposed to, especially at the beginning of their social media journey. Once they become more proficient in discerning what content is appropriate and reliable, they will need to be granted more freedom.

Concluding, social media sites can be a source of encouragement, support and information when used correctly. But the skill set to navigate them safely needs to be developed, and this can only happen with support and monitoring from the parents and guardians.

-Stein