Social media: harmful or helpful?

Data about social media is nuanced, demonstrating both positive, negative effects


Fatimah Williamson

Increased use of social media has an effect on teen mental health, but how much?

Fatimah Williamson, Staff Writer

Teenagers are commonly depicted, sometimes inaccurately, as “addicted to social media,” always on their cell phones. The new reality of the digital age has enthralled the young generation, but the effects of a relatively unchecked digital environment is an issue that continues to grow. Various studies demonstrate how social media affects consumers and show the correlation between mental health and social media use. 

High school students are especially active online, more now than in previous generations. Surprisingly, though social media is second-nature to most high schoolers, students seem to acknowledge the effects it has on their mental health.

Silverado High School students were polled on whether they think social media is more harmful, or more helpful. Out of the 13 students surveyed, 69 percent voted that social media is more negative than beneficial. 

Many studies illustrate both the positive and negative results of internet usage. The Mayo Clinic states that social media is beneficial as a general concept because it connects the world, but also informs that ill usage of social media can cause teens to feel pressured to fit into a mold and feel unhappy with themselves and their lives. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure.”

It has been found that both the frequency and the behaviors exhibited using the internet can have an effect on teens’ mood and health. Constant social media usage is linked with higher risk of mental health issues. Passive use of social media, for example, constant scrolling and looking at others’ profiles, can also contribute to dissatisfaction.

Social media provides many features that can enrich the minds of young people, however. Education, entertainment, and positive social interaction are all accessible on the internet. News2LV states that certain studies show that platforms like YouTube are less harmful to users than platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. Making different choices on individual platforms is a way to be more mindful on the internet.

Sources at Harvard interpret the mental health repercussions of internet consumption as being connected to whether the consumer is overly dependent on social media. A study expressed that emotional dependence on social media (such as checking follow counts or statuses out of fear, or reacting strongly to not having access to the internet), is a major factor in social media negatively impacting people’s happiness and self-esteem.

“The ways that people are using social media may have more of an impact on their mental health and well-being than just the frequency and duration of their use,” says Harvard research scientist Mesfin Bekalu  in the above article.

Students are still developing and navigating life, and the concept of the internet and social media is relatively new. Not all parents are tech savvy, and not all teenagers are aware of the difference between a healthy relationship with social media, and an unhealthy one. 

One high school senior, Jillian Garcia, participated in an interview on her personal view of the internet, as well as its effects on students and young people.

Garcia discusses the more lucrative benefits of the internet, explaining that it can highlight careers with, “more professionals in certain fields explaining what it’s like to be in their field,” Garcia said.

The damaging influences of social networks and the internet are heavily related to the ways in which the medium is used, as well as the maturity and the intelligence of the consumer.

Because social media is so new, it is very easy to get lost on the internet and lose sight of boundaries, problem-solving skills, and advocating for your own safety and well-being. Teenagers are accepted to be tech-savvy, but it isn’t taught or normalized for a teen to have an awareness of boundaries and critical thinking on the internet. Most social media activity is subconscious liking, scrolling, and being unknowingly advertised to and used to test an algorithm. 

“Social media tends to promote what’s popular; it all depends on the consumer themselves,” Garcia said. “If toxicity is what’s selling, then that’s what’s going to be shown to you.”

Graphic Design teacher at Silverado, Jessica Kennedy, provides input on how the internet is altering the mind of its consumers. 

“In the past ten years, the internet has created much shorter attention spans,” Kennedy said.

She expresses that the internet was created to be positive and educational, but has been used in such a way that it has become a mass marketing platform that, at times, is highly detrimental to one’s well-being. No one has the attention span to participate in and view content that enriches them, and everyone is drawn to drama or controversy. 

Kennedy voices her concern that constant internet use has led to people becoming more demanding, less human to one another, and less apt to engage in meaningful social interaction.

Social media influencers play a large part in teens’ increasing involvement in social media. Some influencers have young audiences, but encourage irresponsible and questionable behaviors. They can take advantage of their impressionable viewers because influencers are looked up to, and even praised.

“The number one thing I see in influencers is a lack of social responsibility,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy voices that the best way to interact with the internet is to understand that less is better, and meaningful interaction holds more value than endless scrolling.

“Teenagers have to separate their private life from social media life,” Kennedy said. 

Though great opportunities can come from being active on the internet, there are tools that shouldn’t be forgotten. Maintaining meaningful relationships face-to-face is an important skill to have, and shouldn’t disappear as the internet makes superficial connection a worldwide norm. Doing activities without wires attached can restore a connection to reality and the world around us. In the end, the internet is a tool, not our entire lives, and we still have tools we can use to prevent it from preoccupying us. 

There’s still a long way to go for people to be more educated on social media and the ups and downs of the internet. To many students, social media has become, subconsciously, a core part of our lives. Many students are aware of the ways social media is used can be detrimental at the end of the day, but also enjoy the benefits of entertainment and learning opportunities. The important thing is keeping boundaries between you and the internet, and bringing awareness to the ways you use social media and how it affects you personally, mentally, and physically.