Young people who regularly use social media have differing and nuanced opinions about how growing up as adolescents with the world at their fingertips affected their mental health.
While students widely agree that social media is vital for staying connected with friends and family in an increasingly digital world, they recognise that there are aspects of the most popular social platforms that have negative impacts.
Two school districts in York County recently decided to join a lawsuit that would restrict young people’s use of social media. As of early this week, school districts in Clover and Fort Mill, SC have joined the lawsuit. The lawsuits associate the use of social media with mental problems in young people.
Students have their own perceptions, and here’s what some of them have to say.
High school senior Jenna Lincomfelt has friends and family who don’t live within visiting distance. Social media gives her a link to relationships from which she would otherwise be isolated.
“They’re busy and I’m really busy, so we usually don’t have time to necessarily talk,” Lincomfelt says. “Instead, I can make a quick post or say something on my Instagram story, which gives us a way to communicate about events going on in my life.”
Also, social media has become vital for students with especially packed schedules. It helps them stay up to date with student groups, many of which use social media to share information.
“I wouldn’t know about half of the school events or my club meetings if it wasn’t for me having Instagram,” Lincomfelt said.
Developing real-life skills
Olivia Carr, a first-year graphic communications major at Clemson University, says social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have helped her develop media literacy and videography skills that can be highly useful in today’s digital marketplace.
“Videography comes into play with my degree programme, so when I have to do that down the line, I already have some experience,” Carr said.
Reece Weslock, who is studying music in Columbia at the University of South Carolina, has found an intersection between practicality and community through social media.
He said he uses platforms such as Instagram to share musical compositions and develop a following of like-minded creators. That also helps him establish professional connections and form friendships.
Feeling less isolated but hurting productivity
Students widely agree that, during quarantine and thereafter, social media was crucial to meeting people with similar interests and it helped them feel less isolated.
Lincomfelt talked about how something as small as seeing a post of your friends that doesn’t include you has caused students to become needlessly anxious and even ruined friendships. The convenience of social platforms also leads students to engage in online banter rather than face-to-face conversation.
“There can be a lot of miscommunication because of that,” said Lincomfelt.
In addition to social stressors, students also are concerned with how addiction to popular platforms can negatively affect their productivity.
Weslock found that a childhood of social media dependency now manifests itself in his adult life as a five-minute visit to an app can turn into a multiple-hour venture.
“You can be on it for a long time and lose a lot of hours in the day,” Weslock says.
Cassie Cole, a senior at Catawba Ridge High School in Fort Mill, echoes Weslock’s experience.
“We have no sense of time anymore. I’ll go on TikTok for a break while studying, and before long, it’ll be midnight. I’ll think, ‘OK, where did four hours go?’”
Cole also is concerned with how the quick and easily digestible structure of social media ruins students’ attention spans and makes it more difficult to complete other tasks.
“We’re so addicted to the dopamine hit because we’re seeing these thirty-second videos that give us what we want very quickly, so it’s harder to stay focused on things that are longer than those thirty seconds,” Cole says.
Engagement tricks, unrealistic standards
The addictive elements of the popular platform Snapchat have even started making money off its users. Carr said she believes engagement tricks such as Snapchat “streaks” may not be healthy for teenagers.
Snapchat keeps track of whether users communicate with the app daily, and if you do, your streak with that friend increases by a day. Some young people sign on to Snapchat daily just to prevent losing their streaks.
It has become an expectation among many students that the length of your streak with someone is a representation of the strength of your friendship. That creates anxiety around maintaining an online presence and, by extension, maintaining relationships. When Carr missed a day of streaks on Snapchat, the app prompted her to buy them back.
“I had to pay a dollar to restore my Snapchat streaks. That’s ridiculous,” Carr says.
Social media also has garnered a reputation as a hub for promoting unrealistic standards. Students recognise that they are impressionable, and the emphasis that social media places on image can be harmful to a young person’s self perception.
“We see a ton of influencers on social media, and a lot of the time, they’re overdramatising their lives or editing their pictures,” Lincomfelt said. “When people (especially those our age) see that, it can really bring down their self esteem. They think, ‘why isn’t my life like that?’ or ‘why don’t I look like that?’”
The difference between what is real and what isn’t may be a relatively easy distinction for an adult, but students have observed themselves and their peers being susceptible to poor self image because of standards presented by social media.
With alarming issues such as addiction and mental health on the line, students are open to discussions about what role social media should play in the lives of teenagers. – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service