Social Media has become an integral part of our lives. The risk of harm it presents to the Mental Health of teens and young children, must be addressed. Teens in particular are vulnerable to the onset of depression; anxiety disorders and self-esteem issues, from the content they are bombarded with.
Young girls are left particularly vulnerable, being subjected to incredible pressure to look, act or behave a certain way, both in the real and the online world. Feeling under pressure and being constantly connected, takes its toll eventually. It is impossible to compete against people who always appear; to be prettier, thinner, and wealthier, have more friends and always seem to be having a better time than you. It's a false reality, nobody can live up to, especially very young and impressionable teenage girls.
The American Academy of Paediatrics this month published an article in the journal Paediatrics. In it they have set out a number of issues relating to the use of Social Media which are having an impacting on Mental Health.
- Viewing certain Media content can make teens feel anxious and afraid.
We have certainly seen this in many of the young children we have met. Experiencing a fear of missing out; if you're not allowed use a certain App, if you don't have the right profile, not enough friends, not having enough people ‘Like' your content etc. Growing up is a tough enough experience on teens, without having to please everyone else on the planet through a Social Media site.
- Teens can turn to Social Media to avoid facing their feelings.
Choosing to tell others how you feel is important. Doing it on Social Media instead with a friend or appropriate support channels, can be a double edge sword. A person may receive or may not receive support they are seeking. Another negative outcome can be receiving support in the form of validation by others for post. Sometimes posting about negative emotions can receive more feedback and positive validation posting positive content. This can have such an influence on some teens, a negative feedback loop begins. Now a person begins to constantly look for validation from their peers, in a negative way. While all this is being played out on Social Media, the cause of the negative emotions are never addressed, even more troubling is it might make matters even worse.
- Teen depression may stem from a lack of genuine social interaction because digital media use is replacing it.
This is becoming such a familiar scene. A family all sitting in the same room, yet no one is communicating with each other, as everyone is engrossed in their own devices. Just while out for a walk the other evening, passing through an estate of houses, it was frightening the number of homes where this scene was replicated. If we are not talking to each other, how do we even realise that someone may be hurting. Isolation from people is not a positive experience. But being isolated in a room of people, who are all isolating themselves with the device use, will certainly not have a positive outcome.
- Teens feel anxiety from not being connected to what friends are doing all the time.
The fear of missing out is something we all experience. However the invasion of Social Media and how we interact with each other means this can become a source of distress. None of us have the ability to be omnipresent. We will miss out. It can be difficult for young people to understand that this is what they are experiencing. It is not possible to be part of the experiences of thousands of friends or followers. Each person's experiences, good or bad are what defines them. Getting caught in a thought process, where the life experience of everyone else appears more important or better than your own, only leads to negative an unfair comparison.
- Cyberbullying can result in anxiety, depression and suicide in teens.
We are all aware of how damaging Cyberbullying is. However, the power on anonymity allows some to cause incredible pain and suffering to others in a very public environment online. It is very hard for those who have been targeted online to fully recover. It can be even more difficult to remove the content which caused it.
In simple terms, the pursuit of happiness has become the pursuit for online perfection. We all know perfection is unachievable. The question is, how anyone can achieve happiness in an environment where there is no reality. Images are filtered, friends list contain mostly strangers, is what is being presented, even an honest representation of how a person is actually feeling or doing. It is a game people play, where the players misrepresent their circumstances in an attempt to better the other players. This results in all the participants doing the same. The problem we are then left with is, with the bar of expectation being raised so high, eventually there will be those who feel they can't play the game anymore. If they are out of the game, or can't keep up, negative thoughts, emotions and feelings kick in.
Social Media has a place, but it should be a very small place in all our lives, certainly not something that defines us, or ever has the ability to damage any of us, especially our young impressionable and vulnerable children.