Regular reader here know that I've shared a posts about this important topic. Socila media can be such a negative force in our world. In addition to this gurst post below, your can explore this more here and here. Thanks to Alecia Carroll for this new piece. – KW
Social media is everywhere. It’s unavoidable, it’s powerful, and it’s in some ways growing more significant than ‘real' life for some people.
Around 48% of the total world population use social media in 2021. Social media is now a part of consumers’ daily life as smartphones become more accessible. In the past five years alone, social media users increased by a whopping 32.2 %. The number of users will be shooting up in the years to come as the popularity of apps (YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.) soar.
Another phenomenon that has been on rising in the past few years is mental health problems. One in five adults in the US experienced mental illness in 2019. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability globally.
Much research on depression and other mental health problems reveals that social media platforms can significantly affect mental well-being. Researchers have established a causal link between social media and mental health problems, indicating that social media increases the risks of anxiety and depression.
As young adults are the most voracious social media users, educators and parents must assess their vulnerability to mental health problems.
Social Media Use and Mental Health Wellbeing of Students and Young Adults
Social media use among youths is very high and ever-increasing. Social networking is an essential part of a student’s social life, with apps such as Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram becoming strong communication mediums among peers. As most teenagers own a smartphone, they spend hours entertaining themselves with different social networking apps. But is the use of social media by young adults healthy?
A study in the US conducted on 1000 young adults (age 18-30) indicated that depression rose in tandem with the time they spent on social media. The heaviest users (those who spend over 5 hours/day on social media) had three times higher risk for depression.
This is alarming because social media consumption among youths is very high and above five hours per day. According to a census study, teenagers in the US spend over seven hours daily on the internet, whereas tweens (8 to 12 years of age) spend nearly five hours daily. Young adults today are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems, as has been apparent in recent years.
Youth mental health issues have risen dramatically around the globe. A report revealed that today’s young adults have disproportionately worse mental health outcomes and suicide ideation. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among youngsters between the ages of 10 and 34 in the US. Social media use is a factor for mental health issues among youths and an important one.
Educators play a vital role in averting depression and mental health problems due to social media in young adults. Here we discuss how social media negatively affects youths’ mental well-being and what educators can do to prevent them.
How Social Media Use leads to Mental Health Problems in Students and Young Adults?
Before tackling the mental health outcomes, teachers and parents need to understand the relationship mechanism of social media use with depression. Extensive use of social media usually affects the social development of the students, which results in psychological tolls as they continue to use different networking apps.
Here we mention how mental health problems manifest as a result of social media use.
1. Self-image and Low Self-Esteem
Young adults, especially adolescents, already face self-esteem issues due to the changes happening in their bodies during teenage. Extensive use of social media reinforces such insecurities. Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat have created a false perception of beauty and health. This can negatively impact the mental well-being of youngsters.
As teenagers aspire to false and cruel beauty standards perpetuated by social media apps, they become more passive and insecure about themselves. Psychologist Jean Twenge asserts that Instagram and Snapchat lead teenagers to develop a tendency to “compare and despair,” which triggers anxiety and depression.
There is an increasing threat of cyberbullying among teenagers and minors. 2020 Tween Cyberbullying research revealed that one out of five tweens reported to have been cyberbullied had cyberbullied others or had seen cyberbullying. 59% of US teens have been cyberbullied or harassed online. Most of these incidents happen on social media, with apps such as Instagram being the top platform for cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying instances can lead to serious mental health outcomes. Students become aggressive, withdraw themselves from their peers, and perform poorly in academics due to cyberbullying. A study by a psychiatric hospital in New York claimed that cyberbullied adolescents showed more severe forms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anger than those who were not bullied.
3. Social withdrawal
Opposite to its purpose of promoting socialization, social media can lead to an unhealthy social life. Social media apps are very addictive, and teenagers end up spending a good amount of their day online. This means lower chances of an active social life that involves meeting friends, in-person communication, and entertainment offline.
This can lead to low social-emotional wellbeing. Even when socializing, social media distracts teens from forming healthy social interactions. A survey of 1141 teens in the US indicated 54% of teens felt that social media distracts them from people they should be paying attention to. As teens and young adults shy away from active social life, they become more dependent on their phones for social validation. This leads to isolation and withdrawal, which amplifies the risk of mental health problems like depression.
4. Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation
High emotional investment in social media leads to higher levels of anxiety. Since social media is not real-time, it invites anxiety over the likes and responses the people will get. Especially for teenagers, online answers for social validation make them anxious. In students, anxiety can also lead to poor academic performance. Some students have reported missing school because they feel overwhelmed by the day ahead.
Poor sleep quality is also expected among heavy social media users. Addictive apps lead to longer screen times, and most students use social media at night time. A study of over 450 teenagers’ use of social media found that 47% of them classified as being anxious, and 35% agreed to be poor sleepers.
5. Social Media based Peer Pressure
Teenagers and young adults become accustomed to following trends in social media apps such as Instagram, Facebook, etc. They want to create an impression of perfection to match equally happy posts of their friends with their Instagram and Snapchat stories. Most teenagers have digital FOMO (fear of missing out), as they want to be up-to-date with the latest trends to feel included in social circles. One in eight early teens reported feeling pressured to look popular all the time on social media. Such pressures can trigger anxiety over the constant need for validation.
Peer pressure in social media also leads to youngsters becoming blindsided by negative emotions such as stress and tension. As teenagers see their peers leading perfect life online, they feel pressured to overlook or hide their negative emotions. This leaves them with no tools or counsel for dealing with negative emotions, leading to a poor state of mental health.
6. Low Physical Activity
Physical activity life reduces the risk of developing mental illness. Exercise and sports help in treating mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Teenagers and young adults are meant to have an active lifestyle, but increasing use of social media is preventing it.
Time spent watching screens leading to health problems such as headaches, tremors, incorrect posture, etc. This sedentary lifestyle makes teenagers vulnerable to mental health illness. Exercise serves as a distraction or coping mechanism and can also alleviate anxiety. But lack of physical activities refrains teenagers from using exercise to deal with their mental health issues.
It is evident how social media consumption leads to unwelcome mental health outcomes among students and young adults. Now we discuss the ways educators can intervene to protect students from these mental health problems.
What can educators and teachers do to tackle mental health outcomes caused by social media?
Teachers are pivotal in promoting the social well-being of the students. Educators have the liberty to educate students on issues surrounding social media without being too intrusive or intimidating. Here we discuss ten ways how educators can do so:
1. Introduce Alternative forms of Social Media Consumption/ Interactions
Encourage students to use social media platforms for learning and positive interactions, not just for fun. Promote online study groups in messaging platforms such as messengers, where students can join and share their queries with the teacher and class. Share media links for interactive and educational videos on YouTube that can help students with their curriculum. Also, they can carry out virtual learning sessions over video chats occasionally so students can use visual mediums to share their works and brainstorm with peers. Carry out these activities under your supervision to prevent any instance of bullying or harassment.
2. Integrate Positive Messaging and Dialogic Discourses during Class
Use your teaching time as an opportunity to start dialogues about the impacts of social media use on mental health. Talk to students about unrealistic body standards and normal bodies during Physical Education (P.E.) classes. Carry out talk sessions in the course about the pressures of using social media apps. Use creative ways to speak to your students about the ills of social media apps. For example: during art class, you can show edited and unedited photos of people and ask students to identify the changes made to the image. This can disillusion them about unrealistic beauty standards in social media and help them deal with self-esteem issues. Integrating messaging as a part of teaching or lessons is an ideal way to intervene as it does not seem intrusive or intimidating to the student.
3. Scrap Selected Apps in School Premises
Few apps are known to center around secrecy or judgment, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, etc. Ban apps that are of no use on the school premises. Use app blockers to prevent students from using these apps within the school premises. Use network-level filters to bypass and override unwanted apps. Promote the use of beneficial and educational apps and websites in school.
4. Monitor and Limit Social Media Usage
Monitor app usage of students to ensure they are not overusing social media apps in school. Reduce screen time for students by enforcing guidelines about safe and proper ways of using social media. Use common-sense rules such as marking green zones (no mobile phone zones) in cafeterias, libraries, gyms, etc., to promote students’ social interaction.
5. Raise Awareness about Mental Health Issues and Safe Use of Social Media
Aware students about mental health issues. Form anti-cyberbullying clubs, mental health clubs, etc., to unite students on destigmatizing mental illness. Carry out mental health campaigns such as celebrating mental health awareness weeks by making banners and videos etc. Create a safe environment for students to carry out discussions about mental wellbeing.
Promote safe use of technology. Conduct and organize workshops with digital experts to help students navigate their digital lives more safely. For example: allowing students to experience social media in a controlled setting to them aware of cyberbullying risks.
6. Actively Prevent Cyberbullying
Look out for warning signs of cyberbullying such as aggression, sudden social isolation, etc., among students. Establish protocols for dealing and resolving cyberbullying incidents, help cyberbullying victims cope through reintegration programs, facilitate counseling and mentoring sessions for the students to deal with cyberbullying.
7. Educate Parents on Safe Social Media Consumption Limits for Students
Use parent-teacher meetings and other interactions as a medium to educate parents about social media use and mental health issues among children. Parental awareness of minimum age requirements on social media sites is low. Aware them of the resources available to limit social media usage of their children to healthy levels. 9 out of 10 parents using parental control find that it blocks the right amount of content. Introduce parents to parental controls and other content filters to block harmful social media apps and limit the use of others.
8. Facilitate Counselling Sessions for Students Suffering from Mental Health Issues
Be simply aware of student experiences in social media. Coordinate with local counselors or psychologists for accessible or affordable counseling sessions for students. Aware students about mental health resources such as contact number of mental health helplines, local counselors, etc., to increase their access to expert help.
9. Incorporate Interactive Offline Activities for Students
27% of tweens and nearly 60% of teens use computers for homework daily, which leads to media multitasking and high usage of social media. Emphasizes person-to-person contact and physical activities for students. Promote offline activities such as group projects that require students to connect with their peers to make banners, rallies, and campaign programs that need students to go out and network, community service programs, etc.
10. Focus on Social Skills Development and Self-Esteem Workshops
Try to include different activities that help in the personality development of students. Schedule and organize activities such as outdoor hikes, sports week, leadership camps, etc., that promote students’ social-emotional development.
Social media is an indispensable part of student’s social life. Social media consumption is beneficial but overuse, as is apparent in the current generation, leads to adverse mental health outcomes. Educators are pivotal in promoting the mental well-being of students. By understanding the mechanism of mental health outcomes with social media and using the above measures, educators can enable the healthy social-emotional development of their students.