With nearly 2.8 billion social media users worldwide, social networking is “one of the most popular online activities”, particularly among the youth, with “high user engagement rates and expanding mobile possibilities” (Statistica).
Social media has provided young people with a platform to explore, express and share themselves with a larger group of other people in the hopes to find acceptance in various communities previously inaccessible before the assistance of technology.
However, in the era of instant gratification, much of the work that is necessary to develop more grounded connections with others is bypassed with a quick like, while the development of and engagement with deeper thoughts and conversations is the restricted to a post of 160 characters (in some cases).
What is Connection?
We often hear how gaps in communication across the global community have shrunk with the advances of social networking platforms. Friends separated by distance and costly phone calls can speak at length over Wi-Fi calling applications. Grandparents are brought closer to relatives and new-born grandchildren. Cat and dog owners can share the antics of their “kids” with doubting work colleagues. The possibilities continue to surpass one another per recommended upgrade (every other week).
At the same time, we have seen an increase in studies showing that people are even lonelier and more isolated despite our ‘always on’ culture. What is worse, is the sheer number of young people growing up in a time of click baits and likes that have skewed traditional ways of learning to connect and develop relationships.
Wanting to be liked
We are heart-wired to connect – so what’s missing? In wanting to be liked young people have often replaced genuine smiles with fake ones but also neglect to acknowledge the parts (and emotions) of their lives that do not fit the picture-perfect narrative, filtering it out.
Studies show that the “magnitude of the association between social media use and depressive symptoms was larger for girls than for boys” (The Lancet). In other research increased social media use was linked to exposure to online harassment, poor sleeping habits, dangerously low levels of self-esteem and poor image; these, in turn, lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety.
Findings like these highlight the pitfalls of lengthy social media use for the mental health of young people. That being said, this information is relevant for developing both an understanding and appreciation for the challenges faced, as well as an opportunity to provide guidelines for how – particularly young people – can safely engage social networking platforms. These changes would require the assistance of parents, guardians and especially the industry and media that can help to either perpetuate or ‘cure’ the illnesses and negativities associated with the dark side of social media.
For therapists and psychiatrists, social media platforms aid in medical research for mental health as they collect data from those online about can find communities of other professionals.
Social Media as Tool for Good
Much research and attention has been given to the very real and legitimate downsides of social media. Still, with all that is being said, there are also spaces that share the positive effects of social media for mental health. There are indeed benefits to being online and connected – it depends on how the tool is used (Painted Brain).
Social networking platforms from Facebook to Twitter and Instagram can help relieve feelings of social isolation and loneliness precisely because they allow individuals to connect through various ways. They also create the opportunity for self-expression with less fear of judgment.
Some individuals are inspired to live healthier lifestyles trying to emulate those they see online. Motivational accounts that encourage exercise and healthy eating habits act as a reference point for young people about how to go about living their best lives.
For therapists and psychiatrists, social media platforms aid in medical research for mental health as they collect data from those online about can find communities of other professionals. In addition, websites connect with social media channels to offer and suggest social support and interventions in the form of anonymous forums to share their experiences or SMS services to receive advice.
Some communities come together for local meetups who share common interest from playing sports to recovering addicts but also then have a chance to form new relationships. By extension, social media helps people strengthen existing relationships more easily.
Overall, social media is a powerful tool and can and should be used with caution. Conversations around both the positives and negatives should continue to be had as we navigate a technology that has the potential to help and hurt young people who are increasingly becoming more vulnerable to the rapidly changing environment around them.