Sarah is sitting in front of her computer crying desperately. Has she received bad news from her friends? Or received a rejection from the university she wished to attend? No. She is just staring at the photo of an unknown teen girl on Instagram and crying. Instagram and other social media platforms constitute vital parts of our lives, and even more important for teenagers. These platforms have brought many benefits to our everyday lives and also brought severe risks. Teenagers, whose self-esteem in general is at lower levels, if used in excess and uncontrolled, can suffer increasing level of anxiety and depression from social media, principally due to dissatisfaction with body appearance, superficial and unrealistic relationships and social disassociation.
Today’s young generation is growing up surrounded by the immense impact of social media. Many teens do not know how to put down the phone or disconnect from the websites. Using their gadget has become part of their everyday lives. For some, not being able to connect to the Internet for a day seems like a real disaster. Looking at the demographics of social media users, an increasing level of teens can be found in every single platform. As for the main three social media sites, the results are the following: Facebook is highly used by women with the percentage of 771, especially among those between the age of 18 to 29. Instagram is one of the most popular sites among teenagers. The number of users is more or less stayed the same as in 2014, but an increasing number of women have been shown to be using Instagram (i.e. 31% vs. 24%). The survey has also proved that people living in urban areas are more likely to use Twitter and other social media sites than the ones in the outskirts of the city. It is much more popular among young adults, who like sharing their everyday activities and catching up with celebrities’ lives. Getting inspiration from people one looks up to could be beneficial unless one do not loose his/her own personality features. The greatest fear of being addicted to social media sites is the chance of becoming indoctrinated by the influencers. They may be able to raise children whom will be willing to follow each trend they come up with in the future.
What is essential to keep in mind when using such social media platforms is that they show an alteration of the real world and pictures could influence how the users think about beauty in general and about themselves in particular. All the teenagers living on Earth are wishing to have the perfect appearance, life and friends. But what is perfect? Such words are subjective; however, it is completely clear what society really means under the word “perfect”. Is it someone all covered by make-up that seems to have flawless skin? Or someone having the prefect body but not eating anything all day long? It is something that people with many followers or fans created, putting tremendous pressure and stress on the shoulders of teenagers wishing to identify with them and their transmitted values.
One of the most serious disadvantages of social media is the showing ups of body images. The perfect images appearing on platforms lead us to low self-esteem. Teenagers, who are already in the turbulent years of finding themselves, are more likely to feel bad about their natural appearance. Comparing their body to others is what leads to the lack of inner balance and harmony, which can lead to serious depression. Looking at the celebrities’ photos, which have been corrected several times to be perfect, teenagers may feel like chasing an unreachable goal. Social media people with high number of followers can be considered as role models to follow and admire by teenagers. Looking up to someone unknown or just thought to be known can be really dangerous because it can easily change one’s behaviour towards the world.
Gabrielle Waters, 19-year-old student from Michigan, had a goal of looking exactly like one of the most followed people on Instagram, called Kylie Jenner. Since her appearance has changed so much, people walking on the street started asking her to take pictures together. As she said: “I like how she’s independent, how she’s bought her own home and has a whole bunch of clothing lines she’s attached to. Kylie‘s worked hard for the money and achieved so much at a young age – she’s my idol, she’s so inspirational.”(2) Another issue has been going around social media starring Kylie Jenner is the “kyliejennerchallenge”. After Kylie has had her lips filled, thousands of teenagers tried to follow her. It encouraged many teens to blow up their lips using shot glasses or bottles. Some have been injured when trying the challenge.(3)
Teen social media users definitely have great pressure of being ‘on’ all the time; otherwise, they might become targets of bullying. Such pressure can also come from financial differences. Nowadays, social media platforms are also used to show the properties one owns. People who are not as well off as others feel less. A great example for this, when people post videos on the most popular video-sharing platform, YouTube. Online “beauty gurus” make videos with the title called “Hauls”, where they show what they have bought recently. What’s more, the “What I got for my birthday” or “What I got for Christmas” types of videos are widely common among them as well. At many occasions, people make videos (blogs) sharing their every day activities. Being able to experience other’s “world” is what attracts viewers to the other side of the camera.
The pressure of having “the perfect body” is also high among teenagers using social media platforms. The ideal body shape and weight are defined by online influencers who could make us feel dissatisfied with our own appearances resulting in following a strict diet or even skipping meals in order to achieve their body type. This can lead to serious eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Such kinds of illnesses are in leading positions comparing to other mental illnesses. Studies have shown that it can be considered to be a virus going around on social media platforms. Many believe to achieve the dream body by keeping themselves away from food. Websites, such as Pinterest, have stopped people from searching for inspiration of thin body.4 Such inspirations give ideas how to lose weight in the most unhealthy way by eating chewing gums, drink only water, washing teeth more often even how to hide eating disorder from parents. The so-called “thininspiration” websites are encouraging young women to follow a lifestyle, which can cause serious mental illnesses. The number of anorexic teenagers being admitted to hospitals due to eating disorders has doubled within three years (Emma Woolf, 2015).
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is blaming social media for sharing unrealistic pictures and ideas of how to achieve thin body.(5) There are severe pro-ana (anorexia) blogs on the Internet encouraging people to stay away from food. As seen on one of the many websites, “Starving for perfection” become a widely spread
motto to encourage people to keep themselves away from food. Such websites provide tips on how to avoid eating meals. For example, on the blog called “coleyhasasecret”, the first tip showing up is about how important it is to not tell your goal to anyone. It also says to eat only when others are watching you or buy little clothing items, which will fit as soon as loosing some weight. Surprisingly, the mentioned blog also offers many tricks and excuses on how to refuse food and hide eating disorder. Furthermore, it also encourages teenagers to have a “thinispiration” notebook with models having the perfectly skinny body shape to look at when feeling the desire of eating something.(6)
Social media can also be made responsible for creating superficial and unrealistic personal relationships among teenagers. It is extremely dangerous to place your life onto the Internet. Social media platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook made it possible to stay connected to your friends not only at school but at home as well. In previous decades, bullying happened at school, but people could get away from it after going home. As soon as social media has appeared, cyber bullying took a main role in having more depressed teens around the world. They are no longer able to hide from bullying due to the online world.7 There is no way of ignoring the negative comments because the online world never stops. Social media websites made it possible to share your thoughts with thousands of people. It definitely brought benefits but also many disadvantages. Sharing a provocative picture or making fun of others became easy via Internet. On the other hand, no one should trust in the other hiding behind a computer. There are several risks of talking to someone we are not familiar with. “Catfishing” is a widely spread way of talking to someone with a false or stolen identity, which counts as cyber bullying. Many try to find love using websites such as “Meetme” or Facebook.(8) There are TV shows trying, such as “Catfish: The TV show” co-hosted by Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, to figure out the ones using a fake identity when online-dating. Teens are more likely to trust in people, whom they have not even met with. Nowadays, anonymity is widely spread among teenagers who are afraid of telling their opinion to the other in person. Some are just enjoying how easy is it to start a fight on a certain topic on the Internet. Stories can be read about teens been bullied on social media platforms. Insulting words can cause much more damage and shame to someone than being bullied physically.
Cyber bullying can also lead to suicide. Like it happened to a Bugema University student in Uganda. Ms Mercy Bundi started talking to an unknown boy, but it soon turned out he was not the same person who he had said he was. After meeting Marco, the girl’s life changed forever. He asked her to send him pictures of herself without any clothing. He threatened her that if she told the story to anyone, the photos will be landing on the Internet. Mercy, 19, was too afraid she committed suicide leaving her story written on little cards to her parents.(9) She is one of the girls committing suicide because of social media and the number of victims is increasing year by year. Relationships made on social media platforms give us a false view of the other person. The false connection creates a false world around us, which causes loneliness and the desire of staying inside all day just laying on the bed and not going out to the fresh air. At the end, the child won’t be able to communicate in person because he/she loses his/her interpersonal skills since no gestures are involved in communication on social media platforms. The lack of real life experiences put an additional disadvantage of being addicted to social media.
The excess usage of social media can cause severe addictions, isolating teen users from the real world. As soon as the need of sharing every single step of our lives appears, users won’t be able to spend a day without the gadget in their hand. Recovering from such addiction can be really hard once one lives in it. The problems become more serious when teen social media users isolate themselves from even their relatives and start pushing them out from their world. In this way, problems are not told to parents, which can be followed by dangerous acts. Like it happened to a 11-year-old boy, called Thomas Thompson. Thomas was bullied several times because he was a bit different from the other students. He took his own life away by using too many painkillers. His parents did not recognise anything about their child’s problem at school. After Thomas’s death, his mother, Sandra Thompson, spoke up: “He was extremely clever and loved reading and doing his schoolwork. So they teased and tormented him relentlessly – just because he was a bit different. These bullies killed my son.” Soon after, one of the students from the same school, Hirst High in Ashington, Northumberland, committed suicide because of being bullied as well. Unfortunately, committing suicide is getting widely considered to be a solution for problems among teenagers.10 It soon will be a trend to follow when having problems, which seem impossible to tackle with. The bullying problem has to be solved unless many acts will be happening in the future.
To mention another important issue, staying up all night browsing the Internet leads to fatigue. The lack of sleep is responsible for the less effort put into schoolwork and other activities during the day. Another important thing to keep in mind is that their addiction to be connected to social media sites makes them stay inside all day long. Too much time is spent watching the screen of the gadget while browsing the Internet. Not doing any exercises leads to one of the most serious issues nowadays, obesity. Obesity can also lead to inner anxiety, which can be followed by serious depression. Overweighed teenagers are less likely to take part in social activities fearing from insulting comments they might get. Their self-esteem become lower as well, which can result in sadness or depression. Soon the fear of being surrounded by people would overcome and make teenagers stay alone instead of socialising. Staying inside alone using social media websites would be the only thing they love doing because no real interaction with people is needed. They do not admit that it affects their behaviour towards the world but soon they will not know how to act when being in a community. What is essential to keep in mind though is that being overweighed is not only about the appearance. It leads to many serious health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke or even heart conditions.11 Teenagers lives change forever when being overweighed. Not only do they experience negative comments at times but also suffer from dangerous health problems, which also limit their level of activity.
The main aim of my essay was to show how important it is to take care of teenager’s personal lives and how social media can play an immense influence on teenager’s thinking. Asking them about their problems and thoughts is really vital in order to prevent such serious mental illnesses. Listening to them and offering help could make a huge difference in someone’s life. In many times, teenagers suffering from mental and emotional illnesses are not discovered because they are too ashamed to tell their feelings to anyone. A book, called “All the bright places” written by Jennifer Niven made me think of teenagers hidden feelings and inner anxiety. It is based on a true story, which happened to a boy Niven Loved. In the book, a boy commits suicide because of suffering from a mental illness. Not even his parents recognised anything about his bipolar disorder. Recognising such illness in time can save someone’s life. To solve the problems mentioned above, I would start giving lectures about the perfect images on social media as well as suggesting schools to organise more social activities. Giving presentations about natural beauty would help teenagers to accept their natural appearance because everyone is beautiful just the way they are. As for the differently oriented societies, they would encourage young adults to socialise and debate in various topics while expressing their own opinion. Staying busy all the time would reduce the bed feelings coming to teenagers’ minds.12 They could help teens to become a member of a group where they are surrounded with the ones who have the same interests. Sharing the same passions would create a feeling of belonging to a community, which could result in establishing great organizations discussing serious topics. Making a difference in life is what should be the goal of anyone. It is, thus, of key importance to get surrounded by likeminded, positive and real people and engage in activities with a positive and helping cause, in order to experience not an alternative but the real world.
1 : (MAEVE DUGGAN, “The Demographics of Social Media Users”, PerResearchCenter, 19 AUGUST 2015, page 3) http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/19/the-demographics-of-social-media-users/
2 : ( “This Instagram Girl Looks Exactly Like Kylie Jenner!”, Just Jared magazine, 03 OCTOBER 2015)
3 : (” ANNABEL FENWICK ELLIOTT , “Disturbing new ‘Kylie Jenner challenge’ sees teens suck shot glasses to blow up their lips to double their size… with disastrous results FOR MAILONLINE, 20 April 2015)
4 : (Chris York , “Eating Disorders: How Social Media Helps Spread Anorexia And Bulimia In Young People”, The Huffington Post UK, 13.10. 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/10/12/social-media-anorexia-bulimia-young-people_n_1962730.html
5 : (Emma Woolf , “How social media is fuelling the worrying rise in eating disorders”, The Telegraph, 4 June 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/11649411/How-social-media-is-fuelling-the-worrying-rise-in-eating-disorders.html
6 : (“Fat Girl’s Guide: Starving for Perfection.” By the blog called “Coleyhasasecret”, 2012) http://coleyhasasecret.blogspot.hu/p/tricks.html
7: (Austin McCann , “Negative Impact of Social Media on Teens”, AustinMccan blog, 28 May 2013) http://austinmccann.com/2013/05/28/negative-impact-of-social-media-on-teens/
8: (“Catfishing: A Growing Trend In Cyberbullying” , CyberBullyHotLine, 2013)
9 (ANGIRA ZADOCK , “Girl tormented by her Facebook ‘lover’ kills self” 28 SEPTEMBER 2015) : http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Girl-kills-self-over-Facebook-tormentor/-/1056/2889578/-/yfe86d/-/index.html
10: (JAMES TOZER , “Boy ‘driven to suicide by bullies’”, Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers Ltd) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-187330/Boy-driven-suicide-bullies.html
11 (Clea McNeely, MA, DrPH and Jayne Blanchard “Obesity: Nutrition and Exercise”)
12: (“Depression In Teens”, Mental Health America)