Social media is a prominent part of our culture. It contributes to how we view our bodies and souls every day. A tide that draws us in with its display of perfect lifestyles, positive mantras, and eye-catching posts. Although there are positive aspects, those of us who use social media are all trapped in a cycle of negativity (knowingly or not) that has caused low self-esteem, body image issues, cyberbullying, and harmful comparison for many years. There are some upsides to social media, however, the tide is waiting to pull us back into its pool of darkness at any moment.
Cyberbullying is one of the cruelest things a teenager can be exposed to, and it all starts on social media. As teens, our self-esteem is very fragile as we are all finding ourselves, experimenting, and changing frequently. Cyberbullying crushes that self-esteem in an instant, leaving a scared heart. Access to social media makes bullying online so much easier to accomplish because the bullies don’t have to face the victim, they can hide behind their screen. Although cyberbullying all happens online, it can be one of the most dangerous types of bullying. 47% of all teens have been a victim of some type of online hate at least once in their life. Speaking for many (but not all) teens, when someone posts a picture or video of themselves it’s because they feel confident enough to put themselves out into the world. This is why online bullying is so harmful. When someone posts something that they are truly proud of and then gets hated on for it, it makes the hit so much harder.
Another danger of social media is the predators that have easy targets through social media. If kids and teens aren’t careful enough, it’s easy to be trapped into giving out personal information when it really isn’t necessary. There are endless amounts of scams on every social media platform that are designed to find personal information and give it to predators so they can more easily befriend a teen, just to take advantage of them. Many apps require information such as age to make sure no one under a certain age can access the apps because it is made for a specific age demographic. Sadly, many kids lie about their age to get access to certain apps, defeating the whole purpose of the feature and making them susceptible to many dangerous scams and people online.
Scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or whatever the app may be, our minds are all tricked into comparing ourselves to other people’s bodies, lifestyles, eating habits, and personalities. In our American culture, we are subconsciously taught from a young age that there is one body shape that is “prettiest,” one lifestyle that is “coolest,” one diet that is “healthiest,” and one personality is the “most attractive.” This is simply not true. Because we have all been raised with these standards in mind, it’s easy to compare our lives and ourselves to everyone around, consciously or not. Measuring up against a celebrity’s life and “perfect” body, or what party a peer is at, or where our friends are on vacation that we’re not… the list goes on and on. The bottom line is we all look different and we all live different lives. Social media highlights strictly the best parts of someone’s life that they most likely edited to look even better than it did in real-time. If we all looked and lived the same according to society’s standards, the world would be a bland and ironically lifeless place.
On the flip side, social media can be a place, if used safely, where connections can strengthen, resources can be found, and creativeness can flourish. Social media allows teens to stay connected and feel included. This is something that was definitely tested and proven useful throughout the pandemic. Many organizations, important messages, and opportunities are presented and spread throughout social media that may not have come to fruition otherwise. Social media also gives many people, especially teenagers, space to truly express themselves and their passions, sharing what they love with other people. Furthermore, social media creates communities of like-minded people with similar interests who would have never met if not for the broad, international net that social media casts. Many platforms also give great opportunities for communication through their apps that allow people to get in touch with those whom they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. There are helpful traits and features that social media brings that have carried society into the 21st century.
The vast ocean that is social media, with varying waves of positivity and negativity, can bind people together, but can also tear individuals apart. Cyberbullying, comparison, dangerous predators, and low self-esteem are all factors to be wary of when thinking about the safety of social media. I encourage teenagers, before you open Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other social media app, to think about the risks you are taking for your mental health, and if the positives outweigh the negatives.