In recent years, young people have become increasingly dependent on social media for their interactions with peers and friends. Social media may seem like a solution to young people’s isolation, but there have been increased cases of substance abuse and depression linked to excessive use.
Ben Mesika explores the reasons why social media causes depression and substance abuse.
Perfectionism and Self-Esteem
Girls, in particular, are prone to losing self-esteem if they spend too much time on social media. Comparing themselves negatively with the highly curated images of people who look thinner, richer, more popular, and prettier can have damaging effects on young girls.
Many girls do not realize that social media is a curated space. Influencers only post the most perfect pictures of their lives, and they may distort images and events to reflect their perfectionist worldview. This can be harmful to the average teen who is viewing the images and feels inadequate as a result.
Cyberbullying remains a serious problem among America’s youth. Over 37 percent of young people report having been bullied on social media or in other places online.
Cyberbullying and in-person bullying are equally damaging. Cyberbullying can be even worse because young people have nowhere to go to escape from their tormentors. Instead of confining the abuse to school hours, it follows young people home.
Name-calling and rumor-spreading are two of the most common forms of cyberbullying. Rumor-spreading online is a particular problem because rumors can spread with astonishing speed.
When young people see what others on social media have been doing, they often feel pressured to join in. This can apply to damaging behavior like drugs and alcohol abuse as well as other problematic behaviors like bullying. Peer pressure has an especially strong effect on young people.
Lack of Emotional Connection
Online, there is a lack of true emotional connection. Online relationships tend to be superficial and cannot offer the same level of support as in-person friendships. Many young people find that they are experiencing social and emotional problems that their online friends can’t help them with.
Spending all of their time with online friends also means that their relationships with family and in-person friends suffer. When people become accustomed to relying on online friends more than in-person relationships, they find themselves more isolated than ever before.
Fear of Missing Out
Teens and young adults are vulnerable to fears of missing out. They see stories and photos of their “friends” taking part in exciting activities without them, and they may feel sadness and shame that they have been left out.
The Connection to Depression
Teens and young adults have been diagnosed with depression at much higher rates than in years past. Over 22 percent of young people have been diagnosed with depression, about double the rate among the adult population. The connection to social media use is strong.
Suicide rates have also gone up significantly among young people in the decade since smartphones were introduced. Scientific studies have found that there is a definite correlation between social media use and depression.
The reasons why social media use causes depression are complex. Excessive social media use causes technology addiction, decreased physical activity, and sleep deprivation. Proper rest and physical activity are known to protect against depressive symptoms.
Lack of self-esteem, cyberbullying, and the other factors mentioned in this article can also contribute to depressive symptoms. When teens and young adults use too much social media, they cannot escape from these damaging influences.
Substance abuse is another serious problem among young people who consume too much social media. Many people who use substances like drugs and alcohol brag about it online, causing vulnerable young people to try it for themselves.
Also, the epidemic of isolation caused by social media causes teens and young adults to turn to substance use to fill an emotional void. When substance use progresses to addiction, which can happen alarmingly quickly in this age group, teens and young adults find themselves embroiled in what can be a lifelong problem.
How Parents Can Help
Parents of teens should encourage them to balance their online activities with offline friendships. Becoming involved in sports or other enriching activities offline can be a big help in achieving balance.
Parents need to be firm with social media around bedtime. Collecting devices an hour before bedtime is associated with better sleep.
Teens should be encouraged to turn off notifications from their social media accounts at and around dinner time and study time.
Teens also need to learn about body positivity and healthy body image. They need to understand that the images posted on social media are unrealistic and sometimes altered. Learning to love their own bodies can help them to combat the unhealthy effects of body shaming online.
Knowing When to Stop
Following these guidelines, young people should be able to relax their addiction to social media. It is difficult to break any kind of addiction, including a digital addiction, and parents should be patient.
Parents should also be willing to take their children to see their primary care doctor, as well as a psychiatrist and therapist if they are showing signs of struggling.
Ben Mesika encourages young people to think about the effects that social media is having on their lives and reexamine their priorities.