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Teens growing up in the twenty-first century face a unique set of challenges and struggles as a result of social media. One of the most well-known developmental psychologists, Jean Piaget, asserts that during the preoperational stage of life, children live their lives with an imaginary audience. This theory explains why at some point all people feel like everyone cares about what they are doing at all times.

Schoolboy on social media on his phone

With the high prevalence of social media today, there is reason to feel like there really is an audience watching at all times. According to Jefferson Health, when not spending time at school or sleeping, teens spend around nine hours a day on their phones. Though connecting with friends and family members sits alongside social media’s pros, the cons may outweigh any upsides.

There is an immense amount of pressure to be ‘perfect’ in all areas of life as a result of the online world. Teenagers are constantly comparing themselves to actors/actresses, artists, models, and other teens all over the world, leading to low self-esteem, self-doubt, poor body image, and fear of missing out.

In an article from the New York Times, Ezrin Woo discusses how younger people are highly aware of how damaging platforms like Instagram can be. Woo conducted an interview where an 18-year-old claims that the app perpetuates negative-self image through algorithmically influenced explore pages.

A hand holding a cellphone

For example, a user may interact with more body-positive accounts, and still only be fed images of bikini models who are size 2. Profiles are polished, perfect, and not an accurate representation of what those people are really like anyways.

Instead of working through the hardships of adolescence, social media is used as a distraction from mental turmoil.

Social Media and Mental Health: What Research Shows

A study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health revealed that people aged 14-24 feel an increase in depression from using Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter.

Additionally, in a qualitative study conducted by Jordan Young of the University of Pennsylvania, Young found that adolescents using less social media were actually less lonely and less depressed.

Making friends takes a certain amount of risk-taking that is not necessarily apparent in an online setting. When people are not practicing face-to-face interactions, it can lead to more anxiety related to confrontation in adulthood. The Child Mind Institute suggests that children are missing out on countless social learning-experiences when their heads are downturned to their phones in public settings.

The absence of body language and tone of voice creates a deficit in social skills that could probably be fixed with a reduction in screen time.

Though teens are the most susceptible to the negative effects of social media, adults are not impervious to mental health problems that can result from overuse of these platforms. Amy Summerville, PhD, says “the research necessarily says that everyone needs to put app blockers on their phone.” It is important that young people limit the time they spend online and go out into the world.

Man laying on bed using social media on his phone

Aside from the crucial practice of social skills and a lessened sense of ‘fear of missing out’, a reduction in screen time could make a world of difference for today’s youth.

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