Is Social Media Harming the Mental Health of Teenagers?
01 Nov 2017 (11:47)
ink we would all agree that the digital landscape has put increased pressure on teenagers today as there are so many social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat for them to choose from. I read a report recently where the author had made a conscious decision to avoid Snapchat and Instagram because of the social pressure they saw them putting on their 14-year-old sister. In this particular article they recounted how their mother would turn off the WiFi at 11pm, at this point the authors sister would beg them to turn their phone into a hotspot. She always wanted to load her Snapchat stories, or reply to her friend’s messages. If they refused, saying she could respond in the morning, they’d get the “You’re ruining my social life” speech.
The article was written by a teenager, who stated that even they sometimes find this craze a little baffling as well as concerning.
A new study from Glasgow University has found that teenagers who engage with social media during the night could be damaging their sleep and increasing their risk of anxiety and depression. Teenagers experienced anxiety if they didn’t respond to messages immediately and so felt a pressure to be available 24/7. Teens are so emotionally invested in social media that a fifth of secondary school pupils will wake up at night and log on, just to make sure they don’t miss out.
Teenagers using social media at night could be negatively affecting their health as they are not getting enough sleep. Research published in the Journal of Sleep Research of has shown that teenagers need 9.5 hours of sleep each night but on average only get 7.5 hours. Teenagers lacking in sleep can experience tiredness, irritability, depression, a susceptibility to colds and flus, and even gastroenteritis. These days, my own teenagers are always tired at school, they are not prone to staying up until 2am chatting. Homework and the pressure to have the perfect set of grades mean they can be up late working. And it seems to me in any case that at school, most of their mates are exhausted too.
During the summer holidays, my son damaged his phone and as a result was phoneless for a week, it felt like a disaster. He loves his phone. It gives him quick access to information and allows him to be constantly looped in with his friends, to know exactly what is going on in their lives. So, when he didn’t have his phone for the week, “I felt a fear of missing out”, his words not mine. By the end of the week, he’d got used to not having a phone and I’d quite enjoyed the break from social media. But there was still a lingering sense of sadness at the back of his mind that there would be conversations he had missed, messages that had been sent, funny videos shared and night-time chats that he would probably never get to see.
A separate study by the National Citizen Service found that, rather than talking to their parents, girls seek comfort on social media when they are worried. The survey also suggests that girls are likely to experience stress more often than boys – an average of twice a week.
It’s becoming more and more obvious how the pressures of social media disproportionately affect teenage girls. I can see it all around me. Pressure to be perfect. To look perfect, act perfect, have the perfect body, have the perfect group of friends, the perfect amount of likes on Instagram. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Bullying and self-hatred begins if you don’t meet this ridiculously high standards.
What is really worrying is that time and time again, these studies pop up and demonstrate that the mental health of teenagers, especially teenage girls, is on the line. We know this. We know the perils of the internet, we’ve heard about online bullying and we know to use an apparently new term that slut-shaming goes on in our schools. We know that these studies demonstrate that we have to make personal, social and health education statutory in schools and ensure it covers a range of issues from healthy eating and sleeping to consent. And yet, the government refuse to act. So, I ask: what are we waiting for? Inaction on these issues is harming the physical and emotional wellbeing of young people in this country. What has to happen before we do something?