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There is no doubt that mental health struggles are on the rise, but can we blame social media as the cause, or can it possibly be part of the solution?

Social media is a hot topic of conversation, both at the user and observational levels. It has indeed changed our lives, forever. It has the power to bring us closer together with others across the world, but at the same time, it can bring us farther away from the people closest to us. There are many negative ideas that can be brought up in the discussion of social media. These ideas can lead to anxiety, depression, and the desire to be and look perfect at all costs, which can all be attributed to poor mental health. Younger generations are extremely vulnerable to this form of connection, and when filled with negativity, it can create a harmful environment. There is no doubt that mental health struggles are on the rise, but can we blame social media as the cause, or can it possibly be part of the solution?

The Problems with Youth on Social Media

Social media is this glitzy, glamorized, altered world that creates a drive for everything to look and feel perfect. Teens see influencers with perfect homes, relationships, and flawless makeup, hair, and bodies – all while seamlessly making money off of their perfection. This fad of performing on a worldwide platform of perfection can look tantalizing to younger generations. Fame, money, and beauty are all these kids see. This can also make anyone who doesn’t look and live like those on social media feel like they are not as good as others. It also creates an immeasurable amount of self-doubt and low self-esteem. Seeing this can highlight teens’ self-viewed flaws while making them embarrassed about how they live or look. The display of perfection also creates a false sense of the world around us, and teens can be swayed to believe that what they see on social media is real. 

In order to succeed in the digital realm, teens need to understand that there are two parts to all social media. The two parts consist of what they see and what is real. Beneficially directing teens to realize that social media is not what it seems can help them properly navigate the delicate atmosphere. Teens should use social media with respect, honesty, and responsibility. 

When many of us entered the world of social media, we had little to no training on how to be a proper digital citizen. It is crucial to explain the negatives and impacts that social media can have on our social life. Getting wrapped up in what was said, shared, or posted can lead them down a path of self-doubt and low self-esteem and create dangerous mindsets about how to look better on social media. 

Digital Citizenship for Kids and Teens

Trusting teens with a big responsibility, like social media privileges, can be risky. While they may not intend to do harm, many comments or posts can be taken out of context, flipped, and shared to create a totally different idea or point of view that can end up getting them into trouble. They need to know the damage even a simple comment can do. This goes hand in hand with discussing cyberbullying, which by now, most teens are tired of hearing about. However, it is such an important conversation to focus on because teens can get lost in the negative comments from social media. They need to know how to react to the scrutiny, as well as how to post and interact with others on these platforms appropriately. They can struggle to understand the difference between how they need to talk to others and how others talk to them. Teens already face a lot of criticism at school from their peers, and when their flaws are broadcasted on social media, this can hurt their mental health. 

Obviously, not everyone is a fan of having their flaws pointed out by others. It often takes a strong-willed individual to admit their flaws to someone else, let alone broadcast them as content on a social media platform. This opens teens up to all sorts of scrutiny and inappropriate ridicule and even creates obsessive followers that can turn dangerous. Clearly, these reactions are negative and can have an adverse impact on a teen. Increasing negativity can severely impact one’s mental health. On the other hand, seeing people on social media who not only accept but try to better themselves has given a new light to sharing mental health struggles. 

The Positive Side of Social Media

Individuals are now willing to share their mental health struggles and journeys, as well as the challenges they have faced. There are many people on social media whose profile platform exists just to share their journey with others. Recovering addicts, those coming out of manic depressive episodes, those healing from trauma, and those learning to live with newly diagnosed mental illness have all shared their experiences. Mental health professionals have even created profiles as a teaching platform to show viewers how to live with their symptoms or how to help those around them struggling with their mental health. It is vital to share with teens that mental health advice on social media is best coming from a clinically-trained professional.

This mass use of social media has also given a significantly positive platform to the LGBTQ+ community. It has helped many who struggle with their sexuality and gender concerns feel comfortable coming out and also seeking help for those whose mental health is impaired because of being forced to repress their true selves. There have been many positives that have come from this social media boom when it comes to LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+ advocates.

This is exceedingly beneficial for teens struggling with identity crises. Seeing this platform filled with positive coming-out stories and being able to follow transitional journeys can be extremely powerful and liberating. This might, in turn, help them to understand that they can be who they are and there are people who will support them. Online support is just as prevalent as online scrutiny. When a teen feels supported, they are more likely to support others as well instead of tearing themselves down. 

While there may be downsides and negatives to social media, it does seem to have the potential to have a major positive impact on society when used in the right way. The age of the “world wide web” opened the door to ease and access to information. Looking to the future, teens using social media can boost a society of acceptance, self-help, and personal growth, on journeys that we cannot simply conquer alone.