The Comparison Factor: Though many know that their peers share only their highlight reels on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. Everything from physical appearance to life circumstances to perceived successes and failures are under a microscope on social media. We fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others as we scroll through our feeds, and make judgements about how we measure up.
Less Face Time: Social interaction skills require daily practice, even for teens. It’s difficult to build empathy and compassion (our best weapons in the war on bullying) when teens spend more time “engaging” online than they do in person. Human connection is a powerful tool and builds skills that last a lifetime. So feeling like you’re being social by being on Facebook doesn’t work. Since loneliness is linked to myriad health and mental health problems (including early death), getting real social support is important. Virtual friend time doesn’t have the therapeutic effect as time with real friends.
Focusing on Likes: The need to gain “likes” on social media can cause teens to make choices they would otherwise not make, including altering their appearance, engaging in negative behaviors, and accepting risky social media challenges.
Cyber Bullying: Teens girls in particular are at risk of cyber bullying through use of social media, but teen boys are not immune. Cyber bullying is associated with depression, anxiety, and an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts. A study a few years ago from Swansea University found that people experienced the psychological symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using (this went for all internet use, not just social media).
There are some positive aspects to social media. It’s important to remember that teens are hardwired for socialization, and social media makes socializing easy and immediate. Individuals who struggle with social skills, social anxiety, or who don’t have easy access to face-to-face socializing with other teens might benefit from connecting with other teens through social media.
Individuals in marginalized groups—including LGBTQ teens and others struggling with mental health issues—can find support and friendship through use of social media. When we connect with small groups of supportive individuals via social media, those connections can be the difference between living in isolation and finding support.