A friend of mine has every kind of social media platform imaginable. I was recently at her house, when she did some teenage-ish thing that called for a typical parental procedure of putting her in her place. Yet it was the threat of taking her phone away for twenty-four hours that caused my friend, a normally rational and calm teen, to dissolve into a tantrum. She was afraid she would lose all of her Snapchat streaks.
As teens, we are becoming obsessed with our social media statuses. Most people I know say they are “addicted” to social media. It’s not just a platform for discussions, creativity, and connecting people. Social media is designed to hold users’ attention for as long as possible. According to UNICEF, it taps into our psychological vulnerabilities, need for validation, and fear of rejection. However you view social media, it is impossible to deny its growing impact on younger generations.
Our generation is the first to have grown up with the internet. Almost 90% of teens own smartphones and 71% are connected to social media. Plus, adolescents under 18 account for an estimated 1 in 3 internet users around the world. There is a growing amount of evidence that children are accessing the internet at younger ages. It’s becoming more pervasive and less supervised.
A recent New York Times survey asked teens, “What can you show us that might help make the portrait of ‘Gen Z’ more interesting, nuanced, complete or real?” Out of 2,200 student responses, over 70% were images of teenagers on their phones. While some were positive, like helping teens become more aware and connected, many reflected the negative influence of 24/7 access to social media. Studies have proven that social media usage leads to envy, inadequacy, and less satisfaction with life, as well as symptoms of depression, ADHD, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. In a survey of 1,000 teens done in March 2018, 41% stated that social media platforms make them feel anxious, sad, or depressed. Social media also contributes to issues such as cyberbullying and teen suicide.
According to the West Virginia Education Association, teens spend approximately nine hours a day on digital technology, excluding school and homework. We spend more time with technology than we do with our families, in school, sleeping, or any other activity. Technology and social media have the ability to improve our world in many ways, but they have flaws that are creating dangerous environments for youth. Companies like Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, etc. should continue to provide users with a platform that promotes creativity and communication in ways that don’t jeopardize teens’ mental health and safety. So why don’t they?