By Lauren Hunter
special to SaultOnline.com
Social media has become a significant part of our everyday lives. Everywhere we go we have the ability to post, take pictures, and text anyone we want right from the palm of our hands. We live in a constantly connected society, and although social media can serve as a positive space for virtual communities to come together and opportunities to educate ourselves on important current events, I believe that prolonged usage of social media and the internet poses serious risks on the mental health of children and teens especially.
There is a growing connection between Internet addiction and mental health issues that has never been considered before. The number of people who are unable to carry on with their everyday lives without first checking their social platforms, is growing considerably. Researchers at McMaster University recently surveyed 254 students using the Internet Addiction Test. They found that the students who came up positive on the IAT had much more difficulty dealing with their everyday activities including life at home, work, school and social settings. 33 of the students surveyed met the criteria for Internet addiction and 107 for problematic Internet use (Internet Addiction, 2016).
Not only are social media negatively impacting teenagers, the same risks are true across generations, including for adults. Researchers have also found links between social networking and a growing number of psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. This issue is commonly misconstrued as exclusively affecting young adults but that is not the reality. According to Madden (2010):
Young adult internet users ages 18-29 continue to be the heaviest users of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, with 86% saying they use the sites. However, over the past year, their growth paled in comparison with the gains made by older users … Social networking use among Internet users ages 50 and older has nearly doubled—from 22% to 42% over the past year.
Social media can be a danger in people’s lives that they do not even realize is there. I hope that once people learn about this issue currently affecting a mass amount of our world, they will try to cut back on their time spent on devices and social media platforms.
In addition, while Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are all aimed to keep us connected, new studies show that spending too much time on these applications actually causes you to feel more lonely and socially isolated. Rudgard (2017) states that:
While loneliness among older people is a well-known issue, a new study suggests that social media means that millennials are increasingly the loneliest generation. According to the survey, 89 per cent of them said they had suffered from loneliness, compared to 70 per cent of over-55s.
This loneliness and lack of real life connections is definitely a large factor of the development of mental health issues. It is important to create meaningful and supportive relationships with people in real life especially in a world where that is becoming more rare. Scrolling through social media and seeing your “friends” post about their own lives can be stressful and cause you to worry about missing out. We tend to put up a mask when it comes to posting and updating people on our lives, not much of it is actually real, but we seem to forget this once we are looking at lives that are not our own.
Furthermore, teens that are the most affected by the dangers of social media are more vulnerable because they are in such a critical time of their lives when it comes to decision making and new environments. Everything is changing for them when it comes to school and future career planning. Taking care of yourself mentally is vital during this transitional stage because unfortunately not many of us see our mental health as one of our top priorities and it can fall by the wayside.
In conclusion, social media has definite impacts on people of all ages. It is a large cause of mental health issues especially in young teens that are still highly influenceable. Their perception of people’s opinions of them can impact their sense of self worth. Placing your power outside yourself is a problematic phenomenon but it happens and the results are grave if not kept in check. Moderation is key, and if that is not possible, it is advised to take a break from social media so that one can be well.
Lauren Hunter is a first year student at McMaster University