Teens spend a fair part of their day in the online world. There is a vast array of Social Media sites and Apps, to explore and to be part of. This has now become the primary method of staying in contact with friends, a way for them to express and define who they are. Social media has become a platform for teens to develop new friendships and interests. But when you spend so much time online, does it eventually have an effect of you mental health. Or even perhaps on your social skills
A new study for Common Sense Media, has looked back at the impact of emerging technology and teen’s access to it, from 2012 to 2018. Not surprisingly, there has been an increase in the number of teens, who own their own smart phone. In 2012, it was 42%. According to the study, that figure now stands at 89%. A significant jump in just six years. We expected to see figures like this after speaking to children in National Schools over the last three years. Most children appear to have their own device, or a legacy device now by the time they are in 4th class.
Social Media and Relationships
The survey also asked teens about the impact of Social Media and relationships. More than half of the teens surveyed, admitted that Social Media can distract you from paying attention to people you are with. Their focus captured by the device, rather than who are in their company at the time. Teens also felt it had an impact on real world, personal relationships. Teens will not be alone in suggesting devices can prove distracting in a social settings. Many adults will also have experienced a group, with no one communicating with each other, as everyone attends to their own individual devices.
While many teens in the study reported that Social Media did not have an impact on them. 25%, a quarter of teens said that Social media made them feel less lonely. We need to be mindful of a result like this, and suggest that real interaction with people, rather than device interaction would be preferable. Especially considering that Social Media does have a negative impact on some teens. Often people will not realise the harm caused by the pressure, a vulnerable teen may have, if they already struggle with self-esteem issues.
Teenage Girls Particularly Vulnerable
While both males and female teens can suffer from self-esteem issues, females are particularly vulnerable. A study by BMC Public Health reported that by the age of 15, 43% of girls report are using Social Media for at least an hour per day. Teenage girls in the study reported experiencing a lower levels of happiness, social and emotional difficulties. These figures increased with age. However teenage boys reported spending less time on social media and not as many negative effects as they aged.
Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair explained that due to socially norms girls in particular are especially at risk, “Girls are socialized more to compare themselves to other people, girls, in particular, to develop their identities, so it makes them more vulnerable to the downside of all this.” Highlighting the negative impact a low level of self-esteem can have she went on to say. “We forget that relational aggression comes from insecurity and feeling awful about yourself and wanting to put other people down, so you feel better.”
The global understanding of addiction to Social Media is still at a very early stage. However, according to a study from UCLA Brain Mapping Centre, it has the potential to become addictive. In their study, researchers used an FMRI scanner to monitor the brain activity of 32 teenagers. A fictitious Social Media App similar to Instagram was used. The researchers manipulated images shown to the teens, to appear as if the images had received a number of LIKES form their peers. The results showed that the participants could be influenced by more popular content and they reported wanting to use Social Media more.
The study showed how the stimulus in the tests activated the same region of the brain responsible for pleasure. Dopamine release is frequently associated with addictions for alcohol and drug misuse. The lack of self-control being a significant factor in leading to addiction. The study also highlighted how peer influence can shape preference, with teens found to choose to like an image, regardless of what the image was, if it had been liked by their peers. Advertising companies use this as a sales technique by having celebrities to promote products.
Social Media Impacts
One of the study study of teens, which looked in to the impact of technology and relationships online report some of the negative impact as
- FOMO: (Fear of missing out) Not being part of a group, conversation, on a particular App
- Having to modify your image to get the right look
- Getting stuck in a social media validation feedback loop seeking to have their content constantly validated by peers
- Constantly connected. If you’re not available 24/7 people will move on
This may only prove a glimpse of teenager’s Social Media experience. There are so many variants, it is proving difficult to come up with a definitive, yes it is bad or, no, it is not bad. The truth of the matter will lie somewhere in the middle. We do know there are some positives to Social Media. We also know that there are some negative effects also. The most sensible course of action, is to stay involved as much as possible in a teenager’s online life. Always encourage an open conversation with them about their experiences.