Negative Effects of Social Media

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”  When Albert Einstein spoke those words, I am certain he had no idea what “social media” or “the world wide web”was, but I am equally certain he would agree it applies to both. Much has been made of the growth of social media, and its impact on society; and while that impact is generally viewed as positive, it has come at a cost for today’s youth. We are seeing an entire generation struggle with various forms of mental illness such as depression, suicide, and addiction like we have never seen; and the common thread that weaves between today’s youth and these conditions seem to be the amount of time spent on the internet, and social media.

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According to a study conducted by Common Sense Media, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment on any given day. Between the years 2010 and 2015, teens who exhibited classic signs of depression surged almost 33% according to various national studies; in addition, suicide attempts increased 23 percent among teens. The number of teens who committed suicide during this time was over 30 percent, continuing the disturbing trend.

So, why does the generation born after 1995 appear to be more at risk to experience mental health related problems than that of the generation before them?

Well, according to the Pew Research Center, late 2012 saw smartphone ownership increase to over 50 percent; corresponding directly with the rise in teen depression and suicide. While some may argue that depression, and thoughts of suicide, may be what led to an increase in online activity, as opposed to the online activity leading to depression and thoughts of suicide, the data just does not support this idea. Since 2012, we have seen teens spending increasingly less time interacting in person, and much more time immersed in online activities.

Anyone who has looked around a restaurant, college classroom, or any public place will notice how many people have their faces in their phones, specifically teens and young adults.  Interacting with people face to face is one of the cornerstones of the human experience, and one that is responsible for our most basic fulfillment of happiness; in the absence of this face to face interaction, our mood will begin to suffer which can lead to depression.

Social isolation is one of the major risk factors for suicide. Teens and young adults often argue that they are not isolated at all, but overly connected to their friends through their phones, but it has been found that teens who spent more time than average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed. Teens are also sleeping less, and teens who spend more time on their phones are more likely than others to not be getting enough sleep.

Not sleeping enough is a major risk factor for depression, so if smartphones are causing less sleep, that alone could explain why depression and suicide increased so suddenly.

Another factor that is contributing to the decline of the mental health of today’s youth because of the internet is “cyber-bullying” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “cyber bullying” is defined as the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person often done anonymously. Traditional bullying that used to occur commonly on school-grounds has now been over shadowed by harassment through the Internet and other technology related devices.

Middle school students are the main age group involved with this epidemic because their prime means of communicating with one another involve e-mail, chat rooms, and IM. Studies show that 1/3 of teenagers who have used the internet have stated that they have received threatening or offensive messages either through text, e-mail, IM, and other technology related programs.

In 2007 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially labeled “electronic aggression” being cyber bullying as an “emerging public health problem”

Many adolescents feel more comfortable and powerful behind the computer screen shielding themselves from doing such an act at school.

According to an article written by Robin M. Kowalski, between 49% and 70% of victims do not know who is virtually bullying them making the perpetrator ultimately anonymous.

Cyber bullying affects more than 43% of youths and continues to be a leading cause of depression. Cyber bullying effects the way teenagers feel about themselves, both physically and mentally. Medical research shows that teenagers who have suffered from some form of cyber bullying through Facebook have a tendency of also suffering depression. Many young teenagers experience some form of depression from Facebook either from being put down or being made to feel like they don’t fit in.

In addition to the rise in teen depression and suicide, there has been an increase in a mental-health related issue that is unique to this cyber-generation; it is known as Internet Addiction Disorder, or IAD. It is no secret that many teens are big fans of video games and the internet. But for some young people, what started as entertainment, or a way to keep in touch with friends turns into a behavioral disorder. IAD is much more than just a strong desire to be online.

As in the case with other behavior disorders, such as compulsive gambling, IAD is marked by a progressive loss of control over one’s ability to avoid, regulate, or limit a behavior. In this case, the behavior in question is spending time on the internet.

As is also the case with other addictions and compulsions, teen internet addiction is thought to be more prevalent among teens who are struggling with disorders such as depression, ADHD, anxiety, poor self-image, and low self-esteem. For teens who become involved with online MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games) such as World of Warcraft, the likelihood of addiction may be greater because these games never end. For those who are at risk of developing IAD the rush of playing triggers a release of endorphins t hat mimics what occurs in the rains of individuals who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs, or to behaviors such as gambling.

For teens who are struggling with other mental health or behavioral challenges, the power, sense of community and adrenaline rush of online gaming can be extremely enticing; and nearly impossible to give up without intervention. It is almost certain the internet, and social media, are here to stay; but how it continues to evolve and at what cost to the youth of the future, has yet to be determined. It seems it is increasingly difficult to keep up with the evolution of where this technology is continuing to lead; however, an entire generation of youth are suffering effects that no other generation before them have had to suffer. Today’s youth have literally been given the world in the palm of their hand, but they remain at the mercy of the power they have been given. To expect them to know how to navigate this power at a young age seems to be asking quite a lot of them.

The problems of depression, suicide and addiction are not easy to solve, but all available resources should be focused on doing just that. As Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist said, “There is no greater insight into the future than recognizing when we save our children, we save ourselves.”

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Negative Effects of Social Media. (2021, Oct 19). Retrieved from