In the last 10 years, virtual communication has taken the world by storm. Social media provides opportunities for individuals to explore relationships, gain independence, and discover their identities. Exposure to social media may also have negative impacts. To healthily practice using social media, as a tool and not a weapon, we must be aware of the potential benefits and issues.
Benefits of Social Media
Social Connection- In a recent survey, 77% of tested adolescents reported that they believe social media is important to maintain relationships with friends and support meaningful conversations. Social media does allow increased availability and connectedness to friends and family. It provides an opportunity to communicate with those we love, near or far, almost instantly. Increased socialization via social media may support a heightened feeling of acceptance and minimize feelings of isolation.
Identity and Intellectual Growth- Social media provides an avenue for growth by increasing self-expression and educational resources. This is an environment that can help support the expression of creativity, opinions, and intellectual growth. Of course, the impact of social media can vary based on the platform being used and the intention behind using it.
Potential Harms of Social Media
Cyber Bullying- Cyber bullying and rumor spreading are common practices on social media and have been connected with increased self-harm. Victims of cyber bullying may feel they do not have a social connection or support in person and now online. This can provoke feelings of exclusion and isolation, increasing the risk of depression. Online conflict can also birth the idea that if I change who I am or how I look, I may be better accepted. These thoughts can lead to disordered eating, eating disorders, and body dissatisfaction.
Online Content- Generally, social media only shows the positive aspects of life. Constantly viewing other’s “happiness” may lead to dissatisfaction and a belief that the lives of others are so much better. In the same study mentioned above, researchers found that the more individuals spent time with friends off of social media, the less they compared themselves to others. As a society, we are less fixated on judgment when in person and more likely to be vulnerable.
Displacing Interests- The time spent on social media is taking away from important experiences, activities, hobbies, and interests. This time invested on phones or computers may be time lost with friends and family. It may also be time lost resting or enjoying the world outside of the virtual universe.
The increase in mental health concerns has coincided with the explosion of social media. This raises concern, is social media a cause? To explore if boundaries need to be set around social media, try asking yourself or a loved one a couple of questions:
- How much time do I spend on social media?
- When I log in to social media, do I feel better or worse about my life?
- Do I use my phone up until I go to bed?
- If I was in person, would I speak to someone this way?
- When was the last time I met up with someone I care about?
- Where am I spending my time on social media and what is the content?
If you aren’t comfortable with your answers, now is the time to make a goal to put down your device and explore what you might be missing out on.