Content warning: this article mentions eating disorders and mental health.
Social media is a major part of modern society, but should children be exposed to this online world? Platforms give people a way to connect through interests and ideas, but some aspects of social media have grown into having more dangerous consequences.
People see celebrities and models with a “perfect” thin body (that is mostly photoshopped) and become intent on starving themselves to be that way. Other than seeing a misrepresentation of beauty in society, adolescents are easily bullied by close friends and strangers alike on social media.
Once emotional harm is done, it is difficult to go back and not second guess yourself in everything you do to fit standards. Despite the harm that it causes, children younger and younger are still joining social media and being affected by its negative side.
Anxiety, depression, low self esteem, self harm, anorexia and bulimia are just a few negative effects social media has had on adolescents. However, this is not only affecting a small part of society. According to a 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens have a cell phone with 46% reporting they are online almost constantly. Tens of millions of adolescents are involved in these online worlds of Youtube, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.
Think of what you see on these platforms, images of glamorous celebrities going to exotic islands with a thin body and plastic curves. Would you not have wanted to stay away from this at a young age when you did not understand that most of the pictures were fake or over exaggerated?
A younger generation sees these images and feel that they are not good enough and should be at the same standard of millionaire celebrities, starving themselves and developing low self esteem. Not only seeing things from celebrities, but things from friends can cause depression and self harm if someone posts something mean about them or posts pictures of a party they were not invited to. Adolescents have a hard enough time trying to find their place in the real world and complete schooling. Do they really need to fight to fit into an unrealistic online world too?
What other people post not only affects adolescents, but what they post themselves also has a negative effect as most people do not learn what they should and should not post. For example, the impulsive behavior of most teens lead to them posting intimate photos of themselves or sensitive information.
Most people, not only adolescents, do not consider the repercussions of posting something into the world where it can never be deleted. Posting these types of things can lead to bullying, harassment, stalking, sexual predation and even blackmail.
Other than psychological harm and social harm, social media also shapes adolescents into what they should buy and believe in. Celebrities and influences advertise their own brands, making people want to buy from them (despite it being expensive or harmful to the planet) just because it was shown by someone well known. Furthermore, adolescents can easily be shaped to follow someone else's ideas in that children can develop an opinion on a topic when they do not fully understand it.
While there are major negative effects of social media, there are some positive aspects. People who are in secluded areas—or, a more recent example, during COVID-19 quarantine—could still interact with society and not feel so alone through social media platforms. Organizations and people can get their ideas out into the world and advocacy for different causes through social media. Learning about other people's problems can also help someone realize that they are not the only person with specific problems.
Culturally, people can also be exposed to diverse populations on social media and learn from them to be a more inclusive person. One can also stay current on news and events, as long as they know what to look for in a strong source. There can be positive aspects of social media, it just depends on how it is used and whether a person is smart with it.
Despite these positive aspects, the negative effects of social media outweigh them. Children should be kept off of social media until they can understand the dangers of the platform along with accepting that people lie and most people photoshop their images to create a “perfect” body and ideal life. Learning that people are not always truthful can be a very hard lesson to learn for some, but it is required to understand that most people do not look like their profile picture.
Until this is understood, I do not think anyone—adolescent or adult—should be on any social media platform. Adults are shaped by their experiences as an adolescent, so parents should start young in teaching children to love themselves and understand that everything they see is not true.
By Riley Heeb, Contributing Writer