The Truth About Social Media: An Answer No Teen Wants To Hear

From Social Media Addiction¹

As a member of Generation Z- a Zoomer, if you will- if there is one thing I know this generation hates, it is accusations that we are stupid, lazy, and depressed. Actually, that’s not true. We are the self-deprecating generation, so we would actually be the first to jokingly call ourselves stupid, lazy, and depressed even before the accusation catches our whiff. What gets us upset then, is the accusation that we are selfish, lazy, and depressed because of the internet- particularly, if we hear something along the lines of “those pesky iPhones,” or “that darn social media,” and the like. It is the same old song sung to every younger generation- before iPhones and social media, it was video games and television, and before that, even books, the heavenly antidote touted by the older generation as the cure-all to everything, have been accused of distracting youngsters from “more important things.” Yes, that is correct. “Novel reading was so absorptive, and that was seen as one of its dangers, in that it would divorce you from everyday life,” explains the New York Times.²

If we hear this from Baby Boomers, a generation we think has been handed everything, from cheap college to affordable houses, be ready for us to put our boxing gloves on. We will defend the internet, social media (Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok), and smartphones to our very core. Smartphones make things convenient and easy in a way that past generations could only dream of. Social media connects us to people we wouldn’t have ever been able to speak to otherwise- we have friends in different states, different countries, across the globe³; I know as an immigrant with family living in India, that last statement is very important to me. I can talk to family in India in an instant, having WhatsApp calls and video chats where 2 decades ago people would have to use, what? Email? Letters? The telegram?

Social media connects people all over the globe. From ConvertSight⁴

Yes, the Internet and social media have improved our lives in certain ways that we can’t live without anymore, and, to be honest, why would we want to?

However, there is one problem.

This generation is anxious and depressed, and we can see it amongst each other. 7/10 teens think anxiety and depression is the number one problem among their peers. From Pew Research Center⁵.

We are anxious and depressed.

Depression rates for teens have been on the rise for some time now. According to the Pew Research Center, “13% of U.S. teens ages 12 to 17 (or 3.2 million) said they had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, up from 8% (or 2 million) in 2007.”⁶ The percentage increase of teenagers who experience depression is 59% between the years of 2007 and 2017, with teen girls experience a faster growth than boys.⁷

Anecdotally, I can see these statistics reflected in my peers’ faces. I see the exhaustion, the eye bags, the aforementioned self-deprecating jokes we use as a coping mechanism. I can see the hopelessness, the quiet despair for the future, the humorless way we talk about our adult lives. Still, who’s to say that our problems are due to social media? After all, my generation, in my opinion, has been handed an unfair deck of cards. We have the Ace of Post-Recession Economy, King of Ridiculous College Tuition, Queen of Climate Change, and so on. Instead of just 2 jokers in the box, we have more like 20. Perhaps instead of social media…that’s the reason?

Still, every generation has its hardships. There was World War 1, World War ll, the Great Depression, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, etc. While America still finds herself embroiled in war (the Iraq war for example, though most of us in my generation are much too young to realize what was going on then), me and my friends don’t have to worry about getting drafted, or everyone having to live on war rations. We sit privileged and protected in our homes, our only exposure to some snippets from the news and social media.

But perhaps that’s the problem. Maybe the real reason isn’t all of these events, but the coverage of them. In 2018, the average person was consuming 82 hours of information in a week, 90 times more information in bits than in 1940.⁸ In World War 2, the Vietnam War, sure, there was a war happening, but it was much easier to disconnect yourself from the news than in the 21st century. We are constantly being bombarded with news coverage at all angles.

And this news is not feel good information, either. “…the coronavirus (COVID-19), political divisiveness, threats of terrorism, or mass shootings in malls, churches, and schools, it seems like there is always something to worry about.” Perhaps it is because of the need for clicks and views to make a profit, but news cycles will consistently ensure a stream of anxiety inducing coverage to capture our attention. “[We might not] be immediately affected by these issues, but the constant exposure to 24-hour news and social media, which is often heavily skewed toward the negative, can adversely influence your mental health and overall well-being.”⁹ More than half of Americans even see news as a source of stress.¹⁰

News and the media can be major sources of anxiety for young adults. From Everyday Health¹¹

In this way, since “a large majority of teens age 13 to 17 in the U.S. (78 percent)” follow important events, and ”more than half of teens (54 percent) get news at least a few times a week from social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, while 50 percent get news from YouTube,”¹² social media and the internet may be major sources of anxiety and mental health threats.

A blow to my peers that insist there is nothing wrong with prolonged use of social media. However, things are about to get worse. Studies show that rise in depression rates among teens are directly linked with social media. In one study, “teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time.”¹³ This can maybe be attributed to dissatisfaction of online interaction and a craving for more human connection. This can cause feelings of social isolation. Only people who interact intensely offline as well do not go through this type of experience.¹⁴

Social media can lead to increased isolation. From UPMC Healthbeat.¹⁵

The use of social media can also lead to self-esteem issues, as well. The sharing of other people’s can cause one to go through an “upward social comparison,” according to a study done on Facebook users, which showed “that participants who used Facebook most often had poorer trait self-esteem, and this was mediated by greater exposure to upward social comparisons on social media.”¹⁶

Seeing the incessantly happy lives of other people will make you feel worse about your own. From NPR¹⁷

According mental health experts, social media use can not only cause “perceived isolation” and lower self esteem as mentioned before, but it can also affect us physically, too, such as “less healthy activity, disrupted concentration, sleep deprivation,” and can even inhibit the act of making genuine memories.¹⁸

So, the jury may be out on this. Social media, despite the defensive cries of Generation Z, might be the reason we’re experiencing heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. I know we don’t want to hear “those pesky iPhones,” or “that darn social media,” but perhaps we do need to.

Boomers have been saying it since the beginning of time. From Business Insider¹⁹

Or maybe not. In fact, maybe saying those things could be detrimental for our well-being. Though the content of what our beloved elders are saying may be true, it is not coming from a place of empathy and concern most of the time. Almost always it is from a place of contempt and superiority. Every generation faces their own issues, but the beloved elders aren’t taking these problems seriously because they are more technology related, and they think that the internet “isn’t real.” Look, I would be the first person to argue that the internet isn’t “real,” and that online spaces shouldn’t conflate with real life. We humans were not really built for the internet, and we are at our happiest, evolutionarily, when we exist in a physical space, like interacting with other humans and nature and animals and the like. But the truth is that the internet and social media affects us in a very real way, and one would be kidding themselves if they tried to ignore that. The underlying sentiment behind the said pesky iPhone arguments is that the problems my generation is facing are not “actual” problems and whatever struggles we may be going through are entirely our fault.

But is it our fault ? We did not choose for most of our business to be conducted online. We did not choose for our parents to be giving us phones at age 11 or sticking us with iPads when they no longer wanted to deal with us. We did not choose schools to require us to have student accounts and online exams and online study resources and such. We did not choose for tech companies to come up with addicting apps and algorithms designed to get us hooked on them. We did not choose that, those choices were made for us to optimize time, productivity, and money by the adults and companies around us. But whenever we hear about this technology problem, do we ever place the blame on these adults? No we don’t. We always blame us kids. But how can you blame us if this life was forced on us? When the adults of our generation are ready to have a conversation with us owning up to their mistakes, acknowledging our issues, and helping us solve them from a place of empathy, then maybe this technology war fought by teenagers and adults will end. Until then, it’s always just going to be about those pesky iPhones.

References:

  1. “Social Media Addiction,” Facebook, accessed June 30, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/social.media.addiction.hnthea/.
  2. Anna North, “When Novels Were Bad For You,” The New York Times (The New York Times, September 14, 2014), https://op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/when-novels-were-bad-for-you/.
  3. Corazon Miller, “How Social Media Is Connecting Us More than Ever Before,” London Evening Standard | Evening Standard (Evening Standard, May 16, 2019), https://www.standard.co.uk/futurelondon/skills/whatsapp-viber-facebook-windows-live-google-talk-google-hangouts-instagram-snapchat-a4142736.html.
  4. “Smart Phone Connecting People of Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-Free) 12577859,” Shutterstock, accessed July 3, 2021, https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-12577859-smart-phone-connecting-people-world-global-business.
  5. Juliana Menasce Horowitz and Nikki Graf, “Most U.S. Teens See Anxiety, Depression as Major Problems,” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project (Pew Research Center, May 30, 2020), https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/.
  6. A.W. Geiger and Leslie Davis, “A Growing Number of American Teenagers — Particularly Girls — Are Facing Depression,” Pew Research Center (Pew Research Center, December 23, 2020), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/12/a-growing-number-of-american-teenagers-particularly-girls-are-facing-depression/.
  7. A.W. Geiger and Leslie Davis, “A Growing Number of American Teenagers — Particularly Girls — Are Facing Depression,” Pew Research Center (Pew Research Center, December 23, 2020), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/12/a-growing-number-of-american-teenagers-particularly-girls-are-facing-depression/.
  8. Doug Clinton, “Defining the Future of Human Information Consumption,” Loup, July 6, 2018, https://loupfunds.com/defining-the-future-of-human-information-consumption/.
  9. “Anxiety and the 24-Hour News Cycle,” Laguna Treatment Hospital, March 24, 2020, https://lagunatreatment.com/mental-illness/news-media-and-addiction/.
  10. “Anxiety and the 24-Hour News Cycle,” Laguna Treatment Hospital, March 24, 2020, https://lagunatreatment.com/mental-illness/news-media-and-addiction/.
  11. Stacey Colino et al., “How to Avoid Headline Anxiety During a Global Pandemic: Everyday Health,” EverydayHealth.com, accessed July 3, 2021, https://www.everydayhealth.com/coronavirus/the-news-dilemma-how-to-avoid-tmi-during-a-global-pandemic/.
  12. “Where Do Teens Get Their News? The Answer May Not Be Good News for Traditional Media,” Agility PR Solutions, August 19, 2019, https://www.agilitypr.com/pr-news/public-relations/where-do-teens-get-their-news-the-answer-may-not-be-good-news-for-traditional-media/.
  13. Caroline Miller is the editorial director of the Child Mind Institute., “Does Social Media Cause Depression?,” Child Mind Institute, May 10, 2021, https://childmind.org/article/is-social-media-use-causing-depression/.
  14. Caroline Miller is the editorial director of the Child Mind Institute., “Does Social Media Cause Depression?,” Child Mind Institute, May 10, 2021, https://childmind.org/article/is-social-media-use-causing-depression/.
  15. upmc, “Social Media and Social Isolation | UPMC HealthBeat,” YouTube (YouTube, March 7, 2017), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0cgYtRW1-o.https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2014-33471-001
  16. “APA PsycNet,” American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association), accessed July 3, 2021, https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2014-33471-001.
  17. Jon Brooks, “Facebook And Mortality: Why Your Incessant Joy Gives Me The Blues,” NPR (NPR, September 7, 2016), https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/09/07/492871024/facebook-and-mortality-why-your-incessant-joy-gives-me-the-blues.
  18. Hanna Gilley, “Is Social Media Affecting Our Mental Health?,” Health Affiliates Maine, August 5, 2020, https://www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com/is-social-media-affecting-our-mental-health/.
  19. Dominic-Madori Davis, “9 Slang Words Teens and Gen Zers Are Using in 2020 — and Their Boomer Equivalents,” Business Insider (Business Insider, March 23, 2020), https://www.businessinsider.com/gen-z-teens-slang-words-boomer-equivalents.

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