Social media is an integral part in the lives of many people, especially adolescents. By changing the way social interactions between peers are carried out, they have the potential to cause significant negative effects on one’s development and mental well-being. This paper identifies a number of factors related to social media use that may negatively affect one’s mental health outcomes. Then, it evaluates potential solutions that would mitigate these factors, discusses their benefits and drawbacks, and proposes one as the most promising. Although regulatory measures may look promising in this regard, the practicality and ethics of these measures are questionable. Interventions aimed at educating children and teenagers on healthy social media use practices, as well as clinical interventions for those suffering from acute psychological and psychiatric issues are deemed more promising.
Adolescents Using Social Media
Less than two decades after its emergence, social media has become ubiquitous. Although the vast majority of adolescents grow up using it, its effect on their development is not fully researched. However, current evidence suggests that social media use is linked with a higher rate of psychiatric morbidity in high school students (Shafi Reem et al., 2019). Social media allows its users to exchange information freely and easily; for adolescents, who may be greatly affected by their peers’ acceptance or rejection, this can have a significant effect on development (Crone & Konijn, 2018). Because of how common social media use is among adolescents, how dangerous its impact on them can be, and how little evidence on the subject is available, more research on its clinical implications is urgently required.
Social Media and Adolescents
Social media in its current form emerged in the early 2000s; 20 years later, various social media services are available on every phone and used by the vast majority of American adolescents. Some studies estimate that they spend between 6 and 9 hours every day on social media-related activities (Crone & Konijn, 2018). Social media, and the Internet in general, have become an essential part of adolescents’ lives (McDool et al., 2020). A significant portion of their social lives, in fact, takes place in these services (Crone & Konijn, 2018). Social interactions in an online environment can be experienced similarly to face-to-face ones, but social media allows for more interactions each day (Crone & Konijn, 2020). Although social media use has been linked to improved outcomes, such as an increased social capital, its has also been linked to a decrease in general wellbeing (McDool et al., 2020). In particular, it negatively affects sleep patterns and leads to increased self-injurious behaviors (McDool et al., 2020; Shafi Reem et al., 2019). Because of these negative effects, clinical and policy interventions should be developed and implemented to improve the outcomes of adolescents’ social media use.
Social media can grow to take on an overwhelming portion of one’s social life. Although it is not recognized as a condition yet, this has many properties characteristic of addiction (Griffiths, 2018). In particular, a significant part of one’s engagement with social media is caused by a fear of missing out (FOMO), or an apprehension of missing positive experiences one’s peers are having (Griffiths, 2018). Some also argue that social media services use psychological tactics to deliberately draw as much attention from their users as possible (Griffiths, 2018). Thus, interventions focused on teaching adolescents strategies that prevent them from being swayed by such tactics and controlling FOMO may be effective in limiting the negative effects of social networking use.
However, while this solution can be beneficial to adolescents actively seeking help, it is of limited applicability to those who are not. Considering how ubiquitous social media use is and the prevalence of their negative effects, these interventions can be required for a majority of adolescents. Because of this, it is not practical to implement such interventions in most cases, although a more general version (e. g. spreading educational booklets in schools) can be of more general use.
A regulatory approach may be necessary based on the negative effects social media services can have on adolescents and the strategies used by their operators. This will necessarily involve policies that limit elements such as notifications, especially to users identified as adolescents. Moreover, similar policies can also limit the time one can spend on social network each day based on his or her age. However, this approach requires accurately identifying the elements of social media and social media apps that use predatory tactics to draw a user’s attention. This may prove impossible, considering the complexity of psychological factors involved. Furthermore, this can lead to an “arms race” between operators developing and implementing new strategies, and regulators identifying and limiting them.
The more extreme method, which limits one’s daily use of social media, is highly impractical, as well. Determining the appropriate amount of time may be impossible as one’s susceptibility to the factors that lead to detrimental effects may vary. Furthermore, few users limit themselves to one social media service; therefore, the regulations should require collaboration between operators, or force internet providers to control their users’ time. This is technically impossible to achieve as internet service often covers entire households, and identifying specific users can be impossible. Furthermore, limiting a user’s time allotted to various activities is unethical. Finally, this approach risks negating the positive effects of social media use, as well.
Ultimately, current research evidence prevents the development of an objective standard for social media use and addiction by adolescents. Addressing use patterns and response to operators pervasive strategies may be a temporary solution while research into specific negative effects of social media use and means of preventing them obtains more evidence. At this time, developing educational materials to guide children and teenagers toward healthier usage of social media services and distributing these materials among the target population can be beneficial. Furthermore, more acute clinical interventions should be developed for people exhibiting addiction-like behaviors or other psychological and psychiatric issues related to their social media use.
For better or worse, social media is now an integral part of people’s lives, especially adolescents. Its effects on one’s development and wellbeing can be both beneficial and detrimental. Therefore, research into the pathways towards these effects is necessary, as well as the identification and development of interventions to limit the negative outcomes. At the time, efforts to educate young social media users in healthier use practices can be beneficial. Moreover, clinical interventions are needed for adolescents suffering from psychological and psychiatric conditions, as well as addiction-like behaviors, related to their social media use. Most importantly, additional research efforts are necessary to assess the negative effects of social media use by adolescents and develop evidence-based interventions to limit these effects.
Crone, E. A., & Konijn, E. A. (2018). Media use and brain development during adolescence. Nature communications, 9(1), 588. Web.
Griffiths, M. (2018). Adolescent social networking: How do social media operators facilitate habitual use? Education and Health, 36(3), 66-70.
McDool, E., Powell, P., Roberts, J., & Taylor, K. (2020). The internet and children’s psychological wellbeing. Journal of Health Economics, 69. Web.
Shafi Reem, M. A., Nakonezny Paul, A., Magdalena, R., Nandakumar, A. L., Suarez, L., & Croarkin, P. E. (2019). The differential impact of social media use on middle and high school students: A retrospective study. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 29(10), 746-752. Web.