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Social Media Isn’t Helping Our Youth

Society has never been so fortunate to live in such a technologically advanced world. Being able to access any information within seconds, along with having the ability to be in contact with friends and family who live anywhere in the world has shaped everyday life. Raising the next generation of kids has its new challenges to it since their lives are now heavily influenced by the internet. However, internet and social networking sites can impact how kids live their own lives and find their own sense of self. Adolescents can develop a problematic internet to create a fake persona of themselves online that lead to negative consequences with their offline relationships. Even though social media is supposed to improve the quality of life for the next generation, the internet hinders children’s development.

More kids are using technology than ever before. In fact, on average, adolescents spend at least 9 hours on social media. Furthermore, a study done by the Pew Research Center from March 2018 to April 2018 of 743 U.S. teens and 1,058 U.S. parents of teens found that 54% of teens spend too much time of their cellphones. As for social media, 41% of these teens think they spend too much time on it. Almost three-quarters of the parents in the study felt that their teen is too directed by their phone to even hold a conversation. Even more shocking is that 56% of teens feel “loneliness, being upset or feeling anxious” when they are not around their phone. These feelings can become so intense that teens can show signs of internet addiction.

Adolescents who develop an addiction to the Internet can be compared to those with an addiction to substances like alcohol and drugs, according to “The Council’s Blog”. The Internet can give off “some of the same dopamine rewards” that effects “the pleasure systems of the brain.” According to Common Sense Media, even though Internet addiction is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the addiction still provides “reward stimuli” even though it has negative consequences to it. Social media can also alleviate any stress teens may be having as it is an easy way to fill the “human need for stimulation,” thus making it addictive. The Council’s Blog also explains how a 2017 study at Ben-Gurion University in Israel found that teenagers who were addicted to their phones had “significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia severity, and impulsivity.”  In addition, Susie East at “CNN” reports that a study done by UCLA scanned 32 teenager’s brains when using an app that was like Instagram. It found that “certain regions of the brain became activated by ‘likes’, with the brain’s reward center becoming especially active.” This ultimately motivates teens to use social media more. Furthermore, Lauren Sherman, the lead author of the study explains how the reward center is more sensitive in adolescents, which explains why social media is so popular.

More importantly, children who have experienced childhood abuse are more likely to problematically use the internet as a coping mechanism to feel a connection with others.  Common Sense Media defines problematic media use as “dysfunctional ways of engaging with media and encompasses many related terms, including Internet addiction, technology addiction, Internet gaming disorder, and others.” Adolescents who experience this problem feel that their relationship with their phones is “compulsive, obsessive, or unhealthy.” Furthermore, these children who have experienced emotional abuse or physical or emotional neglect are more at risk of developing an insecure attachment or avoidant attachment anxiety. If adolescents experience anxious attachment, Psychiatry Research explains that they will create a “negative image of the self” and will engage in “hyperactivating strategies” to get close to others. These researchers also explain that adolescents could experience avoidant attachment where they develop “a negative image of others and a deactivated attachment system.” This can deprive these kids of developing healthy relationships in their offline lives, thus making them susceptible to develop a problematic internet use that enables them to create a false persona to connect to others. Psychiatry Research states that according to the attachment theory, kids who had abusive relationships with parents aren’t able to form healthy relationships with people in their future. A study done with 1,029 students in North West England showed that out of 327 people who experienced some type of childhood maltreatment, 84% of them developed an insecure attachment that prevented them from forming new relationships because of negative trust issues towards other people. Whether it is anxious attachment where kids have negative self-esteem that results in the inability to create new relationships or avoidant attachment where kids distrust others and are unable to form close relationships, the common result is problematic internet use.

Because adolescents with a background of childhood abuse are more likely to develop problematic internet use, the use of social media as a way to create a new persona of themselves. Springer Science and Business Media explains that adolescents are conflicted with the problems of standing out or fitting in with their peers when forming their own personal identity. Moreover, these adolescents want friendships where they can trust one another wither problems. But how can they do this if they suffer from insecure or avoidant attachment anxiety? This is where social media sites step in to help, as they act as a place where these kids can be anyone they want to develop new friends. Springer Science and Business Media explains that it’s up to them to decide how accurate they “portray their identities online.” According to the hyperpersonal model “adolescents engage in selective self-presentation online.” These adolescents can do whatever they want with their presentations, but with this type of power comes consequences for their actions. If they decide to change their sense of self online for different people, it would be harder to change their sense of sense back in their offline lives. Furthermore, Springer Science and Business Media explain how online self-disclosure is a “rehearsal” for offline self-disclosure. Depending on who the teen’s audience is, they will practice what information they want to reveal about themselves. More importantly, “negative feedback” can lead to lower self-esteem and hinder their development even more.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if adolescents are false information about themselves, they may experience cyberbullying. The impact of it can be so detrimental to kids that they may experience symptoms like depression and anxiety, and they may even commit suicide if the situation is so severe. It is even reported “that 1 in 4 adolescents report digital ‘drama'” which is more relatable to adolescents than the term cyberbullying. Overall, the kids who spread false information about themselves are not only misleading people, but they can experience more feeling of depression. Again, this leads to lower self-esteem because of the “negative feedback online,” according to the AAP.

Even more is that social media is affecting children’s morals. According to Judith Burns at “BBC News,” in the United Kingdom in 2016, “55% of 1,700 people with children aged 11-17 thought that social media hinders or undermines moral development.” Parents that were surveyed said that while 15% of social media sites had a positive influence on children, 40% of parents said they were worried about social media negatively affecting their children. Even more is that 60% or parents saw that their children were experiencing more anger, 51% saw arrogance, 43% saw ignorance, and 41% saw bad judgment. Social media has been affecting their children’s morals, which overall affects the way they live as a person and what their morals will be in the future as adults.

Adolescents, especially those with some form of social anxiety, become so comfortable in social media that it actually becomes, according to Chapter 2 of the book Cyberpsychology as Everyday Digital Experience across the Lifespan, a “reality of choice.” So comfortable that, in fact, in Japan, the name hikikomori, meaning “pulling inward, being confined” has been given to teens who essentially “live online, never leave home, and remain with their parents.” Social media is a way for these teens to avoid “social situations” so they can live in a “comfortable medium” so that they don’t have to deal with disapproval from others. In addition, Common Sense Media reports that adolescents are experiencing fewer feelings of empathy because of social media as. These teens are failing to learn what empathy is due to the lack of “face-to-face time,” therefore they don’t learn “from human facial and vocal cues.” Kids who suffer from childhood maltreatment may already be suffering from the insecure or avoidant attachment that is so extreme that they may just never leave the internet to talk to others to avoid rejection altogether.

Social media use can become so problematic that it can also affect the relationship between kids and their parents. Common Sense Media did a study in 2016 with 1,240 parents and kids and found that “one out of every two teens feel addicted to their device” and that 59% of parents thought their kids were addicted, and that 66% of parents thought that in general, their teens were spending too much time on their devices. Furthermore, 36% of parents and 32% of teens had daily conflicts with one another about their media use.

Teens tend to be private from their parents as they don’t disclose everything that happens in their lives. The internet is a big factor in their life, and it can help them create their own identity and find out what type of person they want to be. Pamela Wisniewski of the University of Central Florida argues since teens are the ones engaging in social media, they should be the ones to deal with the risks of it. These adolescents are naïve to what they put out on the internet and are still learning how to protect themselves. Wisniewski argues that risk-taking is something that teens should engage in to understand the consequences of their actions online, such as strangers trying to communicate with them or spreading false information about themselves. Making mistakes is a part of growing up, and teens need to learn from their own mistakes to understand the value of privacy. Wisniewski states the adolescent resilience theory shows that teens can still live their lives and be successful despite the hardships they come across online. More importantly, Wisniewski thinks that “Teens are often able to cope and resolve negative online experiences without intervention from their parents.” If they don’t involve their parents, Wisniewski states these adolescents can learn to set boundaries, feel empathy towards others, and resolve arguments.

However, children need a positive parent-child attachment so that they can become more responsible for their online endeavors. Telematics and Informatics have found that “Weak parental-attachment was reported to be a risk factor for children’s risky online activities and internet addiction.” If kids have a strong relationship with their parents, then kids will participate in less “risky online activities.” Parents should then play an active role in their kid’s life to make sure their kids are safe on the internet. A study of 733 adolescents from ages 10 to 18 found that the more kids communicate with their parents, less dangerous online activities occur, such as sending inappropriate messages to others. Without parent involvement, kids can prevent positive growth development if they just try to learn from their own mistakes.

Furthermore, Wisniewski’s thoughts on teens being able to minor themselves can be proven wrong by the improving numbers of parent involvement in children’s online activity. The Department of Media and Communications at The London School of Economics and Political Science found that out of 2,032 parents of children aged 0-17 years old, 49% of parents of kids 9-12 years old “think their child still needs them to check what they do online, and nearly two-thirds think this is their right as a parent.” Since these adolescents may use social media sites that require at least kids to be 13 to have their own account, parents are more aware of what their child posts. Although parents are taking more responsibility for their child’s online actions, why do these kids have social media accounts if they don’t even meet the minimum age requirement? Looking beyond this, the most important thing is that parents are becoming more aware of what their children do online.

Although Wisniewski proposes a “teen-centric” approach to online protection, it would not be as good compared to if parents were involved with their children’s online behavior. Just because teens can pick and choose their friends and self-monitor themselves, does not mean they should. Parents need to communicate with their kids so their attachment with them will become more trustworthy. However, this isn’t possible with kids who were raised by abusive parents. It is important for all kids to be safe online, and it starts with parents monitoring their children’s use. It is time to start taking responsibility for our children’s actions.

Even though adolescents can spread false information about themselves to make themselves more extroverted and appealing to others, social media can actually be a good way to interact with others as long as it’s used appropriately. Common Sense Media suggests that maybe adolescents aren’t as much experiencing an addiction to the Internet as they are just using the internet as a way to “interact with friends in a society that does not allow children as much freedom as earlier generations.” After all, that is the main point of social media; to connect with others. Teens are able to go online to see what their friends are up to and express their own interests, as they can “join Internet ‘groups’ reflecting on the aspects of their identity that they wish to explore or deepen” according to Springer Science and Business Media. They can even connect with others who come from different backgrounds to create deeper connections. However, this can only happen if they are using social media for the right reasons, like not sharing false reformation about themselves for the sense of acceptance. Rather, teens need to be secure wither identity so that they are conformable connecting to others and expressing who they are without fear of rejection.

One may think social media’s main use is to simply connect others, but the bigger picture shows that social media can be harmful for the next generation. Adolescents use social media as a way to escape their hardships in the offline lives, yet essentially create a whole new life as if they are living in a fantasy. This doesn’t change their actual lives though, as they still need to come to terms with what they are dealing with and what type of person they want to be when dealing with their problems. Creating a false identity may seem like a great idea to become whom they want to be, but these adolescents still need to find ways to handle their real-life problems instead of ignoring them. By ignoring their problems, they are just creating a new one by overusing social media.



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