Do social media platforms pose a threat to pre-teens and teens? If you ask CEOs, the answer is an overwhelming yes. According to the Chief Executive Group Community, a stunning 100% of CEOs polled at a recent event said that it does pose a threat when it comes to critical behaviors like confidence and body image.
The poll is a clear sign of how pervasive the idea has become that social media platforms—especially Facebook and Instagram—now pose a threat to children and adolescents
ThinkFives surveyed several recent studies and identified Top 5 threats to be concerned about.
Social Media Companies Intentionally Promote Negative Feelings
“The companies themselves can’t be trusted to police their own platforms anymore,” according to writer Dan Bigman. “An overwhelming 88% of executives polled said they disagreed with the statement ‘I have confidence in the ability and judgement of social media companies in content moderation and policing.’”
In the past, there was a sense among business leaders that the tech companies would be able to fix themselves, but now, CEOs appear to believe the problems have slipped beyond the control of the technologists.
In a recent blog post, Instagram’s head of public policy wrote that the company knows that social media “can be a place where people have negative experiences” and that they’re working to mitigate the problem, but added, “Issues like negative social comparison and anxiety exist in the world, so they’re going to exist on social media too.” What do you make of this argument?
According to eating disorders expert Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard, “Instagram is peddling a false narrative that the platform is simply a reflection of its users’ interests and experiences, without distortion or manipulation by the platform. But Instagram knows full well that this is not true. … The company knows that strong negative emotions, which can be provoked by negative social comparison, keep users’ attention longer than other emotions.”
“For teens struggling with body image, anxiety, or other mental health issues, negative social comparison is a dangerous trap, intensifying their engagement with the platform while worsening their symptoms. But with Instagram’s nefarious business model, every additional minute of users’ attention—regardless of the mental health impact—translates into more profits.”
Social Media Has the Potential to Lead to Addiction
Another major issue in social media psychology is the potential for social media addiction. According to Golden Gate University, “while social media addiction has not been recognized as an official mental health disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, excessive social media and internet usage can share similar characteristics of impulse control disorders and gambling addiction.”
Some of the most common manifestations of addictive behavior among social media users include:
- Preoccupation with social media, even when not currently using it
- Attempts to cut back on usage, but failure to do so
- Using social media to cope with negative problems or regulate mood
- Sleep loss, moodiness and irritability
“Therapists who study social media psychology can help teenagers struggling with social media usage by encouraging them to minimize their time spent online. Replacing time spent online with real-world activities can help teenagers improve in their ability to build healthy relationships and enjoy healthy interactions with people in offline settings.”
Social Media Can Cause Anxiety
Teens often feel emotionally invested in their social media accounts. “Not only do they feel pressure to respond quickly online,” according to the Very Well family, “but they also feel pressure to have perfect photos and well-written posts, all of which can cause a great deal of anxiety. In fact, some studies have found that the larger a teen’s social circle online the more anxiety they feel about keeping up with everything online.”
It takes a lot of time and effort to keep up with the unspoken rules and culture of each social media platform. As a result, this puts additional pressure on teens, which can cause feelings of anxiety. Many teens, especially girls, are prone to worry about what others might think of them and how they will respond when they see them next.
Social Media Can Lead to Increased Feelings of Depression and Loneliness
A study in Clinical Psychological Science looked at the social media and electronic device usage among teenagers and compared it to the rate of teen suicide. The researchers discovered that 48 percent of teenagers who spend at least five hours per day on electronic devices have at least one risk factor of suicide. Only 33 percent of teens who spend two hours per day online had at least one risk factor.
However, it is important to note that the data are inconclusive. There is a correlation between social media use and depression or suicide, but this does not mean that social media use is the cause. It is possible that teens who are prone to depression and suicidal ideation are more likely to go on social media for many hours per day.
So why can social media lead to loneliness when students can be connected all day? According to the Child Mind Institute, “for one thing, kids now know with depressing certainty when they’re being ignored. We all have phones and we all respond to things pretty quickly, so when you’re waiting for a response that doesn’t come, the silence can be deafening. The silent treatment might be a strategic insult or just the unfortunate side effect of an online adolescent relationship that starts out intensely but then fades away.”
Cyberbullying is Magnified on Social Media
Another big danger according to the Child Mind Institute is that it has gotten easier to be cruel. “Kids text all sorts of things that you would never in a million years contemplate saying to anyone’s face,” says Donna Wick, EdD, a clinical and developmental psychologist. She notes that this seems to be especially true of girls, who typically don’t like to disagree with each other in “real life.”
“You hope to teach them that they can disagree without jeopardizing the relationship, but what social media is teaching them to do is disagree in ways that are more extreme and do jeopardize the relationship. It’s exactly what you don’t want to have happen,” she says.
Dr. Steiner-Adair agrees that girls are particularly at risk. “Girls are socialized more to compare themselves to other people, girls in particular, to develop their identities, so it makes them more vulnerable to the downside of all this.”
What social media threats do you think most affect your students?