Over the past decade, social media has exploded in popularity. In many ways, it’s brought us closer together, and allowed kinds of shared experience which otherwise would not have been viable. But it’s also had undeniable negative effects, most egregiously on the minds of young people who find themselves swimming in zeros and ones.
According to data collated by Jonathan Haidt, among others, the rates of depression and suicide among young people in Canada, the US and the UK have doubled during this period. There’s an obvious causal connection here: the more we look at social media, the more depressed we get.
Depression manifests itself in different ways for girls and boys. Generally speaking, according to Haidt, girls tend to internalise their negative feelings, while boys tend to express them outwardly. The most obvious cause for concern is the case of girls younger than ten, among whom rates of self-harm has shot up over the last few years (a concern echoed by the Children’s Society).
The increased availability of images of idealised bodies has lead to younger people feeling depressed about their own inability to meet an unattainable standard. Heavily doctored images on Instagram are seen as goals to aspire to. This may lead to obsessive exercising and eating disorders, both of which are on the rise. When young people get enough disposable income, they may rush into cosmetic surgery without considering the consequences.
The Medical director for NHS England, Prof Stephen Powis, last year warned that those providing these services should be required to undergo training in order to identify those looking for aesthetic surgery for the wrong reasons.
Women are far likelier to resort to cosmetic surgery than men, with breast augmentation being by far the most common procedure, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. Blepharoplasty, liposuction and rhinoplasty (or nose jobs) are other common procedures sought-after by young girls.
Luckily, 2020 has seen a small movement with the content that is posted on social media sites, like Instagram, which is much more positive for the mind. While the ‘perfect’ look is still very heavily portrayed, their has been a rise in ‘honest’ and filter-free content from powerful women, showing that not everyone is Instagram perfect, and a lot of it boils down to angles and editing.
Stalking & Cyberbullying
Social media provides children with new means of tormenting one another. Doctored photos can be circulated, false gossip and rumours can be spread, and children can be entrapped into sharing compromising pictures of themselves.
Only by being aware of these dangers can younger people guard themselves against the risk. Moreover, children and teenagers must be made to understand that they can talk to someone even if they feel that they’re in a vulnerable position.
There are more ‘cowardly’ ways for youngsters to bully and attack people now, such as hiding behind false accounts or even sharing abuse from their own accounts. It’s the ‘ease’ of hiding behind a phone and a keyboard which has made this one of the most alarming situations to come out of social media.
What are your experiences with social media? Are they overall positive, or fairly negative?