The ubiquitous nature of smartphones and social media has infiltrated every college student’s daily lives. Walking through campus, it is common to see students sitting at tables together and all looking at their phones. A common joke that my friends and I tell each other when this happens is: “is this what our generation has come to?” Although it is meant to be a joke – it echoes the truth. Nowadays, students would rather spend time interacting online instead of in-person, and studies on the negative psychological impacts are just starting to appear. As technology continues to expand and become more and more evasive in the lives of Americans, the problem will only get worse.
From 2006 to 2012, the percentages of teens using social media daily has risen from 55% to 81%. According to a study conducted by Yvonne Kelly, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University College London, teens who use social media more than five hours a day shows a “50% increase in depressive symptoms among girls versus 35% among boys,” (CNN link below).
The causes of depression among teens has long been a topic of discussion between psychologists. In her study, Kelly noted that they looked at four potential explanations that were linked to social media: “sleeping habits, experiences online (cyberbullying), body image, self-esteem,” (CCN Link below). Kelly found a link between teens who used social media an above average amount, more than 5 hours, and a decrease in sleeping habits, body image, and self-esteem.
The problem with social media is the curation aspect of it. Before someone sends or posts a Snapchat to their story, before someone posts an Instagram, or before someone shares a photo on Facebook – they are able to retake, edit, crop, and change the photo as much as they like. The result is that the final posted product sometimes looks nothing like the original. The issue arises when the viewer of the photo compares themselves with the edited final product. Our teenage years tend to be a cornerstone of our development in finding ourselves and developing our self-esteem, and therefore teens tend to be highly focused on how they fit in the group and compare to one another. However, with the rise in social media, instead of deriving their comparisons in person like previous generations, teens who grew up using social media are now comparing themselves to online, edited, curated final version of their friends.
Ultimately, social media is not going away. Understanding the negative impacts that screen time and social media can have on an adolescent’s mental health will be vital moving forward. A study conducted by Jean Twenge and colleagues has shown not only the negative impacts of but the difference between kids who spend more time on their phones versus ones who spend less. Overall, this study showed an increase in happiness among teens who spent their time on other activities like exercise, socializing with peers, and reading. The real takeaway from all of this research is that it is important to strike a balance between time spent on screens and other activities. We need to learn, in a world of ever-changing technology, to put our phones down.