FEATURES: Social Media Keeps Teens Connected But Comes With Risks

(Photo courtesy huffingtonpost.com)

(Photo courtesy huffingtonpost.com)

By Danielle Tancredi – Staff Reporter

Kate Dwyer, an 18-year-old college student, conducted her own social media experiment last year when she tried to quit social media for 72 hours. Even though she labels herself as someone who doesn’t entirely rely on social websites such as Twitter or Instagram, she started having trouble the first day without using her phone.

On day one, she admits that even when she was out trying to avoid any form of media, she felt the urge to take pictures for Instagram. She also found herself unconsciously opening apps after answering text messages, but then quickly closing them after realizing what she was doing. She began feeling desperate only at the start of day two when realizing that she had to access forms of media for a work project and felt the urge to give in. Ultimately, she was successful for the most part, but the 72 hours taught her that “the feeling of connectedness on social media is an illusion,” since the people teens communicate with on social media is one way of seeing into other people’s lives they don’t speak to in real life. This easy access of communication has led teens to social media addiction.

Social media has made its positive impact through businesses, cultures, and politics, but where does its greatest influence fall? Based on research, 92% of teens admit going online at least once a day and 56% admit they go online several times a day. Social media websites such as Facebook has around 1.5 billion users, and Twitter has around 300 million. Teenagers’ reliability on social media has greatly increased as well as a link to having a greater risk of anxiety, depression, impaired sleep, and/or poor self-esteem.

Scott Campbell, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, says that social media isn’t all bad.

“Kids are getting a lot of social support through social media,” Campbell said. “Still, research has shown that there is definitely a causal path between social media use and lower well-being in general.”

Though this may be a problem for people of all ages, teens are more vulnerable to these negative effects.

Today’s children ages 8-18 are called “Generation M2,” and their free time, or most of their time, is dependent on electronic devices. Generation M2 spends close to eight hours a day in front of various electronic screens, which is more time than school and sleeping. The average teenager also sends an average of 3,400 texts a month, which is more than 100 a day, according to estimates from a 2010 Nielsen survey.

It’s easy for a teen to get caught up in communicating through social media since they can accomplish many tasks that are important to them offline such as staying connected with friends and family, and sharing pictures. Although many positive opportunities can come from its impact on socialization, such as creating and expanding new ideas, risks tend to vary. It’s been researched that when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, they can begin to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. Teenagers may be put under the pressure of making themselves available 24/7 when it comes to having to always respond to texts and posts. These symptoms can be caused by the lack of sleep teenagers get on a daily basis. Research has shown that teenagers need 9.5 hours of sleep every night, but on average only get 7.5 hours. This will lead to irritableness, exhaustion, and depression which can also lead to catching colds and flus.

June Eric Udorie, a 17-year-old high school student, recently wrote a blog about her experience losing her phone and how it affected her.

“For the week that I was phoneless, it felt like a disaster,” Udorie said. “I love my phone. It gives me quick access to information and allows me to be constantly looped in with my friends, to know exactly what is going on in their lives. By the end of the week, I got used to not having a phone and I enjoyed the break from social media, but there was a lingering sense of sadness at the back of my mind that there would be conversations I had missed, messages that had been sent, funny videos shared, and night-time chats that I would probably never see.”

Teens are clearly invested into their phones and social media, but what seems to not be as obvious to others is the effect on mental health, especially teenage girls.

“When using social media, I tend to compare myself to other people,” Jonathan Law senior Jenna Caron said. “I feel like if I wasn’t online as much, I wouldn’t feel the need to be like other people.”

The pressures of social media can set teenagers to have high standards for themselves when it comes to apps like Instagram, and if these standards aren’t met, self-loathing and bullying can occur.  While being exposed to so much information in the media while also balancing school and extracurricular activities can be a major contributor to stress.

Psychologist Peddell Hall explains that many parents expect their teens to get straight A’s, which not only causes major anxiety and depression but also makes teens feel the need to belong since it is difficult to maintain a social life as well. Therefore, they use social media sites that only impact their stress more. Unrealistic body types aren’t on only Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram, but also TV, movies, music, magazines, and advertising as well. Social media messages play a major role in shaping gender norms and body satisfaction.

Many high school students and college students couldn’t imagine a day without updating their Twitter feeds or Facebook statuses, which can impact academic performance. Researchers who tracked first-year college students’ use of 11 forms of social media over the course of the academic year found that they nearly spend 12 hours a day using social media on average. There was a correlation between lower GPAs and higher social media use on average.

A recent study of researchers at The Miriam Hospital’s Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine shows the connection. The study included texting as well as watching TV and movies.

Jennifer Walsh, who was the lead author of the study, wrote that students who spent the most time on social media had “fewer academic behaviors, such as completing homework and attending class, lower academic confidence and more problems affecting their school work, like lack of sleep and substance abuse.”

It’s easy to make the connection that more hours spent on social media leaves only some left to study and do homework. With students who have extracurricular activities as well, there are even less hours in the day to focus on school when social media is involved.

“An assignment that should take me 30 minutes ends up taking me an hour and a half to get it done,” Jonathan Law senior Kayla Carollo said. “Since I always have my phone on me and people texting me, I have to stop my work to answer back. And with sports, it leaves me even less time to do homework.”

Besides the distraction, it’s also easy for students to get answers and other school information which defeats the whole purpose of learning the material. This also results in many methods of cheating. Students can actually pay websites to write a paper or download one, which results in less knowledge learned from the class. For the brain, this increases the reliability on internet information and less data remembered. Overall, this results in a decrease in academic performance as well.

Kate Dwyer’s social media experiment generalizes the rest of the average teenage population and their connections with social media. Many positives come along with online sites such as easy information and quick communication. Unfortunately, this generation’s needs for these positives may result in addiction. Social media now revolves around most teen’s daily lives. Social networking influences difficulty in one’s self-regard and vulnerability to peer pressure. This may cause depression and other mental health effects like anxiety. Social media becoming a major distraction can also impact student’s academics if they put more focus towards Twitter and Instagram.

(Some information courtesy teenvogue.com, theguardian.com, sciencedaily.com, digitalcommons.edu, ecampusnews.com, huffingtonpost.com, techwalla.com)

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