Jasmine Gillan Meán Scoil Nua and Leith Truaigh, Castlegregory, Co. Kerry
It began with the introduction of simple apps. Apps that allowed you to send messages and photos to more than one person at once. A thing they called “social media”. “What’s the harm?” we thought. It was like we were young children tasting ice-cream for the first time. Filled with wonder and curiosity, we embraced this new way of communicating, learning fast how to use apps like Facebook and Myspace. Now, 16 years after the release of Facebook, we have hundreds of “social media” platforms at our fingertips. What started out as one scoop of ice-cream has turned into a mountain but as everyone knows, you can’t eat too much ice-cream before you start to feel sick. We no longer wonder “what’s the harm?" The consequences are plain for all to see. Cyberbullying, depression and anxiety are just a few of the negative outcomes of social media. The Irish Times reported that a study conducted by DCU’s National Anti-Bullying Centre found that 28% of Irish children have been cyberbullied while half of the children sampled said they’d seen others being cyberbullied. What can we do about these problems? Some say we should get rid of social media altogether, that we should throw out all the ice-cream. The thing is though, we still like ice-cream. There are things we can do to manage social media in a way that allows us to avoid the pitfalls and enjoy the advantages. It all comes down to what we post, when we use social media and who we connect with.
First, what we post. No one likes to listen to someone who only talks about themselves and all the things they’ve done, especially if they appear to think they’re better than everyone else. Listening to someone who talks like this all the time makes us feel bad about ourselves since it is no secret that negative comparisons lead to low self-esteem. Despite this fact, social media platforms encourage people to compare themselves with others and try to make themselves appear better than others. Instagram and TikTok have turned into beauty competitions as girls try to make themselves look prettier through filters and try to stay in line with what is trending as “beautiful”. They constantly compare themselves with others and are caught in a vicious circle of trying to prove themselves pretty. A study by Facebook themselves found that 30% of teenage girls felt Instagram made dissatisfaction with their body worse. We can reduce these negative comparisons by limiting the number of selfies we post so that the connections we make online have positive effects rather than negative ones.
Second, when we use social media. As the ice-cream illustration shows, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Generation Zers spend an average of 4.5 hours per day on social media. That means that by the time we’re seventy, we’ll have spent over thirteen years of our lives on social media and for what? What will we accomplish in that time? Compare that with what we could accomplish in thirteen years of living life in the real world. Thirteen years in the real world is enough time to build lasting friendships, travel, learn new skills and build memories that will last a lifetime. Our whole childhood fits into thirteen years. While online connections have some value, they could never replace the connections we make with the real world. Reducing the time we spend on social media will allow us to spend more time making the connections that matter.
Third, who we connect with. Some would argue that the more friends you have on social media, the better but is this really true? The whole point of social media is to connect friends and families. Thanks to social media, we can keep in touch with friends and relatives we rarely see in person and get to know more about what our friends do every day. During lockdowns, social media was one of the only ways we could connect with friends and relatives. It would be terrible to sacrifice this sense of connectedness but being “connected” isn’t always a good thing, especially if we’re connected with the wrong people. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be “connected” to the leader of a crime gang. Social media is full of dangerous people and even if we don’t accidentally connect with a criminal, we could easily connect with someone we would never be friends with in real life because they’re not nice people.
There’s a more subtle danger that comes with connecting to people we barely know ( or don’t know at all). If we were having a party, we would likely prefer to invite a few close friends than dozens of people we don’t know. We have a stronger connection with our close friends and we feel like we can be ourselves. Although we would be able to connect with more people by inviting strangers, we wouldn’t feel as connected as we would with our close friends. If anything, surrounding ourselves with people we barely know will only make us feel lonely. In a similar way, connecting with people we barely know on social media makes us feel less connected. Posts from our family and friends are lost in a sea of posts from people we barely know and we end up feeling lonely.
Social media is a place of connections but as I have outlined not all connections are beneficial. Negative connections such as connections that make us feel bad about ourselves, connections that steal time from life and connections that put us in contact with the wrong people are connections we should be willing to give up. If we do, then we will feel a more positive sense of connectedness and community. We will be able to enjoy the ice-cream without the stomachache.
Nele Prenzel, Sandford Park School, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Nothing influences teenager more than social media. It determines our everyday life; it connects us and gives us the feeling of community. But how much would we reduce our use of social media to improve the mental health of our generation?
Especially in the last few years, social media played an important role. Despite the lockdown and social distancing, it made sure that we could stay in contact with each other, and the mental health of teenagers would probably have suffered even more from COVID19 if social media had not existed.
Nevertheless, social media has a lot of negative impacts on our generation's mental wellbeing which the “Displaced Behaviour Theory” shows. The more people are spending on social media the less they have time to communicate with other people or be physical active. The theory suggests that perhaps it the absence of these two things that has harmful effects on the mental health. Furthermore, many studies prove that the use of certain social media platforms capable be related to symptoms of depressions, stress and anxiety.
Also, some apps, such as Instagram are the reason for the huge spread of beauty ideals. Teenager are opening the app scrolling through the feeds and seeing other people with their “perfect bodies” and “perfect skin”. Even if their photos are partial photoshopped, many teenagers, especially girls want to be like that, and plastic surgeries become more and more popular among teenagers. Plastic surgeons call it the “Snapchat Dysmorphia” syndrome because teenagers want to look like these unrealistic filters.According to a survey, 31% of young people state that unrealistic life and beauty satisfaction, preserved by social media are the reason, why their life is difficult.
In a report on Independent.ie on the 31. of July in 2019, 93% of the youth think that their life is more complicated that the life of their parents. Sometimes I think about my parents, when they were young and had no access to smartphones or social media. They had to go outside, they had to meet friends and they had to be active, because there was no other choice. They were fully immersed in the present moment. Maybe our generation misses an important part of their youth. Instead of making unforgettable memories we are glued to social media. But what would as example a summer without social media be like? How would we communicate with our friends? We grew up with social media. We are not used to living without it. Would we get along without it? There are so many questions that we ask ourselves and we presumably will never know the answers to them. Maybe smartphones destroyed a whole generation.
Google and Facebook are one of the wealthiest companies in the world. But how are they making their money if we do not even have to pay for them? “If you are not paying for a product, then you are the product.” In accordance to the documentary „The Social Dilemma“ they sell you to their customers, the businesses whose advertisements you can see on these platforms. Instagram, Facebook, Google and Co are ad-supported, and their business model is to keep people engaged on the screen. Everything you are doing gets tracked. With this data, platforms are building a model that predict your actions. Every video you have ever watched, every photo you have ever liked, how long you have been watching a feed. All that contributes to it, so that the platforms know what you are doing next. Thats the so-called surveillance capitalism.
People get manipulated by social media. It changes the way you are thinking and acting. In the past we had to handle a pandemic in the age of fake news, so we can imagine how dangerous social media actually is.
Now you probably ask yourself: “If teenagers do not feel good about social media or know that it is dangerous, why do they even use it?" It is hard for teenager to just delete the social network and it makes it even harder if all the people around you are using it. Today it is impossible to live a life without social media, but it is possible to reduce the usage of it to protect the mental health of our generation. We should keep an eye on our screen time to not overuse it. And maybe someday, as example on vacation, there is an opportunity to do a social media detox. Also, turning off notifications can be truly helpful. Take some time without social media daily and use it for essential things like texting your friends details about a meeting or calling your parents if you need help for something. These are the really useful aspects that social media entails and I think the fast communication is a huge advantage in today´s everyday life.
So, all in all, we should find a good balance in using social media and take a time out if we think we need it. It is important to keep our mental wellbeing in mind while using social media.