Social Media Is Not Your Friend

Camilla Bartolone, Junior Writer

Mental health has a huge hindrance on everyone’s life, and although the internet has its beneficial factors, social media and online content are detrimental to peoples’ physical, emotional, and psychological health.

While many teens feel safest and most themselves online, constant exposure to social media is actually affecting their mental health in a negative way. Teens spend an average of nine hours on social media every day, which makes them more likely to have feelings of intense sadness and suicidal thoughts.

Online content has raised many beauty standards over the past two years, as the majority of people were trapped in their houses due to the pandemic. With so many young people on these social platforms, and very little face to face interaction, it is likely that these false narratives about reality are, in fact, causing depression and mental disorders. According to the Medical News Today, in 2020, social media contributed to depression by increasing feelings of severe isolation, low self-worth, hopelessness, and even sleep deprivation. It is believed that 20 million females and 10 million males in America suffer from anorexia, bulimia, and/or other binge eating disorders as result of unrealistic beauty standards set by the media. By having edited photos, face changing filters, and impossible lifestyles, teens and even children feel as though they need to change themselves in order to fit society’s expectation of what beauty is.  

With the internet being so engaging, it is often difficult to separate reality from fantasy. While many teens may feel a personal connection with an online persona or influencer, it is affecting their psyche in a dangerous way. Para-social relationships and maladaptive daydreaming were terms coined in 2004 and 2015 and have been investigated in depth as we roll into 2022. In 2021, nine percent of teens aged 13 to 17 were partaking in a one-sided friendships or maladaptive daydreaming. Para-social relationships form when a viewer knows so much about a public figure that they believe they are close friends, when, in reality, the public figure has no idea who they are. Despite para-social relationships having a positive effect in adolescence individuals, these one-sided friendships can become toxic and detrimental to peoples’ mental health very quickly. Originally discovered in 2002, maladaptive daydreaming, on the other hand, is when people dissociate from reality to absorb themselves completely in a daydream, which often affects their ability to focus or be productive and their social and general anxiety. And while these relationships can decrease loneliness to fill the gap of social interaction, they are by no means as effective and satisfactory as real-life interactions.

Although some may say that social media can be a space where people are comfortable expressing their feelings, it is also a place where people can get cyberbullied. Most teens have experienced cyberbullying in some way, shape, or form; a 2018 Pew Research study found that 59% of teens experienced some form of cyberbullying online. What makes cyberbullying so dangerous is the safety it provides to bullies. It does not take much to set up a fake account and leak private information or post hurtful comments. These seemingly “safe spaces” online virtually contribute to emotional distress, self-harm, trust issues, and suicide. Unlike bullying in real life where there are serious repercussions, cyberbullying is much more challenging to control, and oftentimes, goes undetected by parents, teachers, or guardians.

The amount of time teens spend online statistically damages their mental health and social skills, which may lead to severe depression and other mental disorders down the line.

If teens were to spend less time online, they are less likely to partake in damaging online fantasies, and will not have smaller feelings of low self-esteem or hopelessness; they will be better off and more willing to interact with reality, removing the cause of their overall sadness.