2 Social media
Social media gets a lot of bad press about its negative impact on young people (as well as adults). Research indicates that social media is implicated in increasing adolescent depression (Brunborg and Burdzovic, 2019; Raudsepp, 2019) especially in girls (Kelly et al., 2019). It also provides a platform for narcissistic self-promotion and aggression (Stockdale and Coyne, 2020) and acts as a mediator of body image concerns (Marengo et al., 2018). By contrast, however, there is also evidence that social media can provide a supportive environment for young people to make connections and receive mutual support (Radovic et al., 2017).
In the UK, it is becoming compulsory to include online safety in school curricula (Department for Education, 2019; Welsh Government, 2019; CCEA, 2020; Scottish Government, 2017). Many young people are well briefed on online safety, although this doesn’t mean, of course, that they will take all the precautions they have been taught. In the next activity, you will find out about how a young person you know engages in social media and the impact this may have on their mental health. In this section, we will explore these issues by listening to audio and watching video from our interviews with young men and women.
Activity 5: Assessing the Impact of Social Media Use
In this activity, you will explore the varying impacts of social media on young people by watching a series of clips from our interviews with young men in which they are asked to talk about the impact this has had on their lives.
Watch Video 4 and make a note of the concerns the young men describe.
Transcript: Video 4: Trends in how social media impacts mental health
The young men described definitive trends in self harm that they became aware of from social media. The young people are aware of these trends and note them among their peers. They describe concern about whether social media glamourised the issue and are clear in saying that they think this behaviour may have been affected by social media, particularly the way that it was possible to share this information online.
While concerns about social media and self-harm are common, it is also important to note that the young men showed considerable awareness of the negative consequences of social media and in another clip went on to discuss how they had developed some strategies to manage this.
Now watch Video 5 and note how the young men talk about their behaviour in relation to social media and how they manage the impact of social media on their wellbeing. Note also why they think social media is harmful.
Transcript: Video 5: Helpful ways of limiting the negative impact of social media
You may be surprised at how knowledgeable and reflective the young men were on some matters related to social media. They raised some concerns, but it is important to note that they were also aware of the importance of boundaries in forming a healthy relationship with social media and those actions which were less helpful. Interestingly, the young men compare the impact of social media on their mental health as being worse than drugs or alcohol, using the word ‘addiction’ to describe their assessment of the ways in which they engage with it. In response to this is it clear that they make distinctive efforts to control their engagement with it.
The young women we interviewed also talked about the impact of social media on them.
Listen to Audio 2 and then make a note of the ways they thought that social media may have impacted upon them and how this has changed over their adolescence.
Transcript: Audio 2: The change of impacts of social media through adolescence
Just like the young men, these young women were animated and engaged when asked to reflect upon the impact social media has had on them. However, they talked about social media as being an integral part of their life such that it was not always possible to be aware of the side effects it is having on your mental health. They also described being so consumed by it that it is hard to detach from. The girls mention the rush and sensations of getting likes and followers on Instagram. However, they also mentioned a particular trend that went on on Facebook when they were younger that they did not see as problematic at the time, but which they have come to reflect upon as being damaging for self esteem.
Throughout all of these clips the young men and women have demonstrated considerable reflection in their engagement with social media. But they also highlight that this is struggle. The final example of something that the young girls were once comfortable engaging with on social media, but which over time they now see as potentially damaging highlights the importance of having supervision and continual conversations with young people. Engagement with social media may almost be inevitable for today’s generation, but it is important to support them as they develop their relationship with social media over time.