Social media is a world within a world, and for those who were born in the 21st century, technology is only but a natural phenomenon. Cellphones, iPods and video games are practically inevitable for teens and young adults.
Platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have taken the world in general by storm, and youths in particular. They have connected the seven billion people of the earth like at no time before since Homo Sapiens took over from the Neanderthals. Intended to increase connectivity between persons on the heels of the Internet, they have, however, morphed to create changes in their users – especially youths – that might not have been predicted.
While these sites’ open dialogue allows individuals to express themselves, there must be some amount of user censorship, not necessarily by the domain host, but rather by individuals themselves. Creating a profile and giving details about yourself, hobbies and educational background are all acceptable; however, for many, every aspect of their day, work, and lives is posted. Like driving, the users of social media should be cognisant of the five Cs – caution, care, common sense, courtesy, and consideration – as many of the things posted can arise in the future to haunt thrones.
From studies conducted, it is clear that social media is addictive to young people, and they spend vast amounts of their time on it every day of their lives. “Scientists have found that teen social media overuse creates a stimulation pattern similar to the pattern created by other addictive behaviours. Hence, the brain responds to social media the same way it responds to other “rewards” — with a release of dopamine. These dopamine rushes are catalysed when a teen posts something online and is met with likes, shares, and positive comments from their peers.” Most parents are unaware of the amount of time their very young children spend on social media, but may observe the effects.
Social media certainly has its benefits for youths, since it is at this stage in life they are learning to form relationships. “According to a report released in 2021 by Common Sense Media on social media’s effects on teens, about half of the 1500 young people surveyed said social media is very important for them in order to get support and advice, feel less alone, and express themselves creatively, as well as for staying in touch with friends and family while social distancing. And 43 per cent said that using social media makes them feel better when they are depressed, stressed, or anxious. Among LGBTQ youth, 52 per cent said social media helps them feel better when they are experiencing these difficult emotions.”
But social media also has its downside for youths, and researchers at Facebook – which owns Instagram – found that the latter negatively affects youths’ mental health. “They found that 13 per cent of British teen Instagram users and six per cent of American users in the same age segment thought about committing suicide while attributing such self-destructive feelings to the site.” But even against that background, when Facebook owner Mark Zuckerburg was questioned about the subject in a congressional hearing, he insisted that such statistics were “misleading”. Unfortunately, there are no such studies in Guyana, but the dynamics are the same as should be the effects.
The negative and suicidal thoughts arise out of the operation of platforms like Instagram, which are dominated by individuals and “influencers” who post pictures of themselves that have been heavily photoshopped and airbrushed to present images that are very unrealistic in comparison to the looks of average youths. All of these create tremendous pressure on youths to achieve that perfection, especially when it comes to looks and lifestyle. When they compare themselves, they despair at the gap, and feelings of inadequacy set in, which in turn lead to depressive and suicidal thoughts.
Overall, social media has its positives and negatives, but it is clear that there has to be more examination to ensure that the latter does not create a public health crisis in youths. For now, maybe parents should pay more attention to where their children’s minds are at with that ubiquitous smartphone in their hands.