By Suha Malik, age 15
As many parents probably already know, their teenage kids can be absolutely addicted to social media. And with the various websites and array of social media platforms, sometimes teens can spend all day glued to their screens. While I’m not exactly defending teens’ reasons to be stuck on social media all day, enlightening others is a good goal to have when trying to raise awareness about the potential negative impacts that social media can have.
One of the first reasons that comes to mind when talking about why our generation is addicted to social media is probably because of the Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO. While some don’t care if they’re the first ones to see a new post by someone popular in their school, or even a celebrity, teens often give a lot of attention to their phones so they can see and understand what’s going on in the world in terms of pop culture.
Basically, it’s the fear that many teenagers have that if they don’t go on social media, they will miss out on a huge event, or something that they deem as important. Often in school, a student’s peers may be discussing a post or video that they all saw and shared the previous day, and if that student wasn’t on social media at the time, they feel left out of the conversation, and not as engaged in it as well.
In BBC’s article, titled, “FOMO: How the Fear of Missing Out drives social media ‘addiction’”, several high school students were challenged to not go on their phones or check their notifications for a week. One person said that the longer they didn’t go on any of their social media platforms, “the more disconnected and isolated from the world [she] felt”. FOMO is one of the main reasons why many teenagers feel the compulsive need to spend a decent chunk of their time on social media; to make sure they are up-to-date with all happenings in order to fit in.
Another reason why teenagers today obsess over social media is because their profiles really dictate how they appear to others. That is, the more likes and/or followers they have, the more popular and envious they come off as to others. Some teens may constantly be on social media platforms to hunt for more followers, make their posts the best that they can be, or find a way to get more likes on their posts.
Psychologist Emma Kenny states that likes on social media sites, such as Instagram, give you a physiological high, and is a reward cycle, prompting users to keep going back to and worrying about the amount of likes that they get. A lot of teenagers, myself included, have deleted posts if they didn’t get a high enough number of likes.
Getting a low number of likes and followers, in teenagers’ minds, equates to low status and ridicule, especially in a school environment, while having a high number of each equates to popularity.
An additional reason why teens may be addicted to social media is because of how quickly and easily they can communicate with their friends, no matter where either of them are. With the click of just a couple buttons, kids in my generation are able to send pictures to each other on Snapchat, as well as gossip and converse through DMs (direct messagings) or IMs (instant messaging). Teenagers can appear as if they are addicted to social media, even if they are not, because they devote a lot of their time to talking to their friends online through these social media platforms.
Social media can act as an escape from the real world. If a teenager is stressed, sad, or even depressed, they may turn to social media to forget their problems, even if it is only for a couple of hours. It’s also a lot easier to express yourself on social media, and teens who may be shy in real life are more likely to have a bolder online presence; they are able to think about their words, and come off as witty, even if in real life they are nothing like that at all. Additionally, if a teenager is feeling isolated or disconnected from their family or friends, they may turn to social media.
On these platforms, it’s easier to make friends, and more often than not, people are accepted wholeheartedly and right away, creating a sort of safe haven for those who feel this way. Most of the time, people post certain events in their lives, whether positive, like getting a job or getting into college, or negative, like failing a test or having a loved one pass away, in order for their online friends and followers to comment and give them praise, support, or reassurance.
A final reason why teenagers may spend an abundance of their time on social media, or on their phones in general, is to pass the time to avoid being bored. Too many times during dinner parties or get-togethers full of adults have my sister or I decide to pass the time going on our phones and scrolling through social media rather than just sit there and do nothing. It was not as if we wanted to avoid talking to people: it was just the fact that no one wanted to talk to us. Instead of doing absolutely nothing throughout the hours that these events took (and becoming wholly bored in the process), we take it upon ourselves to become engrossed in our phones to give us something to do.
So, with all of that in mind, it’s painfully clear that a good portion of the world’s teenagers are addicted to their phones. The impacts of this, though, are frighteningly negative. The “perfect” people that are showcased online tend to lower teenagers’ self-esteem. Without even thinking, we compare ourselves to others, especially those we see on social media platforms. When teens determine that they aren’t “good enough” because they don’t look a certain way, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, a hard time sleeping, disconnectivity, obsession with self-image, substance use, loneliness, and self-harm may manifest itself in teenagers.
Moreover, because teens spend a lot of their time on social media, they have less and less face-to-face conversations and connections because they are experiencing that all online. While this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, the psychology website PsyCom reports that this results in a difficult time fine-tuning empathy and communication skills, attributes that need daily practice and experience.
For teens, it’s quite understandable and obvious, really, why they spend so much time on social media. Whether it’s to stay up-to-date with events, or just to pass the time because they have nothing else to do, social media is certainly a large part of a teen’s lifestyle. While there are some positive sides to social media, like being able to stay in touch easily, there are too many negative effects of social media which cannot simply be ignored. While it won’t go well if you tell your teen to completely cut out social media, it would be a good idea to limit their time on it, given all of the potential downsides.