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I never really thought about social media, or if it was good or bad. To me, it was just like a thing that was there, and everyone used it. The first really big social media site was myspace, but I wasn’t even born when it was created. I have heard many things about myspace though, and because it was from the early 2000s it’s safe to assume that almost every teen listened to Avril Lavigne and went through at least a tiny emo phase while myspace was still being used. I guess that’s why people started assuming social media leads straight to mental illness, because even though facebook came out only a year later, it’s really only a messaging site for “older” people. Now, generally only people from older generations use facebook and myspace, while still technically still in use, is almost completely inactive. Instead apps like instagram, snapchat, twitter, tumbler, and pinterest, are used, which is completely based on popularity. Many teens focus on how many likes and followers they have, which could lead to issues which self image if you buy into it too much. I personally have never really paid much attention to my likes and followers, though I will admit I do sometimes get kind of sad when I realize that someone else has a lot more internet popularity than me. I guess I always found it interesting that while many people in their 40s and 50s tell me that social media can lead to depression and sadness and I know there must be people out there who struggle with that, I personally don’t meet many people who fall into that demographic. Social media has an interesting and complex history. According to dictonary.com social media is “websites and other online means of communication that are used by large groups of people to share information and to develop social and professional contacts”. To understand more about what social media is, let’s look at the history and how it started.
It all started in 1978, with something called bulletin board system, or BBS. BBS is an online “meeting place” that allowed people to share information and games with each other. Soon, another site popped up, Compuserve. Compuserve was very similar to BBS with one advancement, it allowed people to talk to each other directly. From there the idea of social media took off and skyrocketed into 2002 with friendster, a site that let you have a close online circle of friends and promoted having a bonded online community. Soon after linkedin, myspace, and Facebook appeared, and completely changed the game because while myspace was still designed to be for teens, facebook appealed more to the young adults and linkedin creates a network for businesses. Twitter soon followed, and after being released in 2006, it soon joined facebook at the top of the social media pyramid. Fast forward a few years to 2010 and 2011, while facebook and twitter are still at large, a new type of social media is also starting to arrive. This is a type of social media based more on sharing the exciting parts of your life than having an online community, and it starts on October 6, 2010 with instagram. So, to this day, while facebook and twitter are still very popular, so are instagram and 2011 site snapchat, but without the original sites like friendster or even BBS, the world would not have a complete history of social media. Parents claim that social media has a negative effect on their kids mental wellbeing and overall health. Emily Weinstein, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, believes that parents often turn to social media as something to blame for their child’s sadness and overall health, while ignoring other possible factors such as grades or issues with friends and family. Other worries that parents have are that their teen is not being safe on social media or that it might cause them to have body positivity issues.
Social media is a common place for peodfilies to find their next “date”, and if a child doesn’t know the risks of putting images of themself on the internet, there will be a high risk factor. In addition to not being safe from real life people, teens also won’t be safe from the little voices inside their heads telling them they aren’t good enough. On a site like instagram, when everyone is trying to look and feel their personal best, not looking like someone popular or conventional pretty. This is an especially big problem for young girls who do not have the same body type as models. Even though parents worry about their kids becoming depressed or developing anxiety from spending too much time online, they often set bad examples. 77% of American adults have social media, which means many parents don’t lead by example.
Amanda Lenhart, Deputy Director of the Better Life Lab, says that while many parents strive to be good role models for their teens, they feature in the online category. Many parents will take away a kids device if they spend too much time on it, which is shown to have a positive effect, but will not limit themselves when it comes to screen time. While many parents believe that social media is what makes their kid unhappy all the time, they often do not consider other factors or lead by example. Anxiety or depression disorders can be adapted or worsened by social media. Mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder or anxiety disorder are often present before downloading social media, but are worsened by the stress to be perfect online. Sarah Fader is an author that writes and brings awareness to mental health, She recently wrote an article called Social Media Obsession and Anxiety that talks about a recently discovered mental illness called Social Media Anxiety Disorder. It is a very recently discovered illness, so recent that if you search it up on google there will not be a tab of to the side with information provided by the mayo clinic. Fader writes about the symptoms of Social Media Anxiety Disorder, stating that while there are many similarities to other anxiety disorders, people with the mental illness will interrupt daily life to check social media, withdraw from friends or family to live online lives, and severe nervousness when they have no contact with social media for more than an hour. In fact, 20% of people can’t go 3 hours without checking social media and 30% of people spend more than 15 hours a week on social media.
Yoryen Young, who is a senior at University of Pennsylvania, when asked about her opinion on social media said “What we found overall is that if you use less social media, you are actually less depressed and less lonely, meaning that the decreased social media use is what causes that qualitative shift in your well-being”, and believes that many people are aware of the dangers of social media, but chose to ignore it based on fear of not being liked by their peers. While many people believe that social media is a positive thing in their lives, social media can worsen already bed mental illness and even be the cause of some.
Today almost 80% of the population has social media, which goes hand and hand with the increasing of depression and anxiety. As the population grows more aware of the risks of social media and its effect on mental health precautions can be taken to prevent mental illnesses, such as social media anxiety disorder, from taking over people’s lives. Extraordinary measures may also be taken by parents to keep their kids safe on the internet, while they might only need a nudge in the right direction or a guiding hand. When looking back at the history of social media, it’s noticed that teens have always gravitated towards a most depressed path, starting with the first myspace pages. While there are many options for keeping people safe and out of harm’s way, many people choose to ignore the risk factors of social media, and continue with unhealthy habits such as checking an account more than once an hour, every day. It’s important to inform people about the risks of social media because while it’s not seen in the same light, it can be as addicting as any drug. Social media is an ever-present force in our society, and it can have drastic effect on the mental health of a person, causing illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
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