The Debate on Teens and Social Media: In Perspective

The debate over the effects of social media on our teen’s mental health is a heated one. Some argue that social media is causing narcissism, depression, and anxiety among other things. Others believe social media actually aids people with depression and anxiety by giving them an outlet and a support group that they might not have had otherwise.

With rising depression and suicide rates, it is understandable that we would seek causes that are easily actionable, like social media use.

Regardless of which side you are on, this debate highlights some important issues facing our society right now:

Our society is developing at a faster rate than has ever been seen before. We are living in the Information Age and our children are more immersed in news, politics, pop culture, and advertisements than any generation before.  Information is now widely available to adults and children alike and the dark parts of our society are coming more into the light. Our children know and see things that many of us didn’t have to deal with until we were adults, or didn’t have to deal with at all.

This means our dialogue with our children will have to change and the direction we choose to take this conversation will affect our future.

The internet is bringing mental health issues to light in a way that has never been possible before now. Social media platforms give individuals, who otherwise might never have had space, the place to discuss their experiences. This can be cathartic for them and help them find a community of people who relate. This is especially important for children and teens who may not have a healthy home life and good support system within their physical community. Mental illness is a major problem in our society and has been for a long time – as it becomes less stigmatized it will be easier for the kids and teens affected to reach out for help. 

As they become more comfortable reaching out, it is up to us how their call for help is answered. Parents and communities have a wonderful opportunity to use the internet to observe and act on mental health issues before they become a crisis. However, social media, like mental illness, doesn’t play favorites. If the wrong person responds, the situation can escalate from bad to worse very quickly.

Social media can serve as a type of coping mechanism, something that helps kids, teens, and adults deal with the stressors of life. Coping mechanisms are important, but it is very important that they be used in a healthy way. Anything can be used to the point where it causes harm under the right circumstances and social media is no exception.

Social media is a tool. Tools are very important. Social media can be used to spread hatred and violence, or it can be used to organize protests against those same ideals. It can be a support system, a place of comfort, or a sounding board for a new creative project. It can be used amongst friends to make plans and share moments when they are far apart, or by loved ones to keep up with relatives who live in different cities. It can also be used to bully kids and spread disinformation.

We need to learn the positive impacts of social media on the world as well as the negative so that we can, in turn, teach our children how to use it in a healthy and positive way.

As we continue to find our way in this new world I believe it is important to keep a few things in mind.

  • Mental health issues are caused by a variety of factors, and the seeds for the crisis we are facing now were sewn long before social media.
  • Teaching our children to respect themselves and others will go a long way in both the physical world and online
  • For better or worse, the Internet is here to stay and social media is a huge part of that. I believe we need to keep an open mind and remember the good that can come from this shift as well as the bad
  • The Internet is a reflection of our physical world, the issues facing children online are also facing them in the real world and we won’t change the Internet without addressing the causes of those issues in the outernet.

When tragedy strikes we look for explanations. When something like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happens, we must ask questions like, did social media exacerbate Cruz’s mental illness to the point of violence? Or did we miss his calls for help and, in our grief, use social media as a scapegoat for a society that ultimately failed him?

For more information on the links between social media and mental health, check out these resources:

Teens, Social Media, and Technology – Pew Research Center

Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking – NCBI

Can Social Media Help People with Serious Mental Illness Feel More Connected to Their Community? – NIDILRR

Benefits of Social Media For Mental Health Support – Healthyplace.com

About the Author

Clara is a lifelong writer who recently became stepmom to an energetic seven-year-old boy. She has a BA in journalism from the University of Alabama and has written on a variety of subjects including social issues, politics, and music. A yoga practitioner and foodie with a deep passion for health and wellness, she seeks to use her education and experience to help individuals create better lives for themselves and their children. Clara is currently living in Atlanta with her husband and her 80lb ridgeback mix. Clara is a member of the PedSafe Team

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