Smartphones and social media have revolutionized the ways we interact with technology and with each other. Social media can be a beneficial technology. It allows us to find news and information, share fun content, and connect with old friends or make new ones. For some of us, social media is a vital means of connection when we are unable to interact face-to-face.
But sometimes social media can be harmful as well. With nearly 9 out of every 10 teenagers reporting they use the Internet at least several times a day¹, it is important to know the potential pitfalls of social media and how to avoid them. Here are some key points about social media use, especially among youth and young adults:
Depression and Anxiety
While social media is a great way to connect with friends, problems can appear if too much importance is placed on likes and comments. If someone posts a picture and does not get as many likes or comments as they expected, they might feel disappointed, anxious, or depressed. These feelings can also appear if someone compares their posts to those of others, who seem to have perfect lives.
Poor Body Image
It is common for social media celebrities to make posts about dieting and exercising to lose weight or increase athletic performance. But it is also common to filter or edit these images to artificially boost the person’s appearance. When someone compares themself to these unrealistic ideals, they can feel badly about their body image, appearance, or value as a person.
Cyberbullying is when bullying happens online. Sadly, online bullying can be worse than face-to-face bullying because it is easy to hide from parents and teachers, and it can be posted anonymously and publicly. Bullies might be more cruel online because they are not seeing their victim’s face-to-face. Cyberbullying can lead to sadness, low self-esteem, violence, and thoughts of suicide.
Like many things, the key to healthy social media use is moderation. There are great benefits to using social media, but you may be surprised at how beneficial it is to take some time off from social media. In fact, one study published in 2020 found that people who deactivated their Facebook account for a month reported lower depression and anxiety, and greater satisfaction with life.² Whether for a month or just for a few hours this evening, try taking a break from social media and focusing on your mental well-being.
Here are some tips to help you set boundaries and improve your digital wellness:
- Limit the amount of time you spend on social media each day.
- Try taking one day off from all social media each week.
- Remind yourself that people only share their best moments online – everyone has problems, even if you don’t see them!
- Make sure to spend time with the people and activities you enjoy in the real world.
- Get familiar with your privacy settings on social media sites. If someone is bullying or harassing you online, you can block them from contacting you or report them to the site’s administrators. Some sites also allow you to hide content that you don’t want to see, without alerting the post’s creator.
1. Pew Research Center. (May 2018). “Teens, Social Media, & Technology 2018”. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
2. Allcott, H., Braghieri, L., Eichmeyer, S., & Gentzkow, M. (2020). “The welfare effects of social media.” American Economic Review, 110(3): 629-76. DOI: 10.1257/aer.20190658