Updated: Dec 27, 2020
Since the first social media site came out in 1997, social media has expanded to impact roughly half the world’s population. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 90% of teenagers have used some form of social media, 75% have at least one active account, and 51% use it daily. These statistics most likely include only social networking, but still prove that teenagers frequently come into contact with social media. However, social media isn’t limited to just social networking and media sharing sites.
What is social media?
Social media is any kind of content creation website. This can come in many different forms, each with its own benefits. When most people think of social media they think of social networking sites like Twitter or media sharing networking sites like Instagram, YouTube, or Tik Tok. However, social media isn’t just limited to networking or image/video sharing sites. It also includes customer review sites like TripAdvisor, blogs (both community, like Pinterest, or personal, like WordPress or Wix), discussion forums like Reddit, and sharing economy sites like Uber or AirBnB. Though not as involved with customer review sites or sharing economy sites, high schoolers use these platforms in a variety of ways.
What are some of the benefits?
Contrary to many beliefs, social media can help strengthen and maintain friendships, especially long distance ones. It can be a form of expression, both by creating and sharing content as well as by finding an online community to connect with. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find friends with common interests, so discussion forums or social networking sites can be a way to find a community that shares that interest.
Social media can also increase awareness of current events and issues occurring outside of your immediate area. Teens can explore content from other parts of the world and experience diverse cultures. The breadth and depth of these experiences are not limited to socioeconomic status.
What are some of the risks?
Excessive use of social media interferes with healthy sleeping habits. Social media is just one of a phone’s uses. Just like texting, social media can become addicting. Blue light from a phone before bed decreases melatonin levels, a chemical your body produces when it's ready to go to sleep. Responding to notifications, scrolling through pictures, watching videos, or reading on a screen can make it difficult for your brain to wind down. You can read more about that here.
Content-sharing sites can also intensify discontentment and insecurity. It’s easy to forget that someone’s Instagram or VSCO is just a highlight reel of their life, carefully crafted into what they want others to see. It’s the most unrealistic portrayal of life, yet it becomes the basis that many teens compare their own life with. Naturally, their lives can never measure up to these unrealistic expectations. For example, young girls are constantly seeing carefully angled or even photoshopped images of other girls and women. This kind of comparison can lead to the development of mental illnesses, such as body dysmorphia.
Many teens feel pressure to uphold a certain standard for their own accounts or create a fear of putting themselves out there while watching everyone else do it so well. In addition, social media makes it easy to know too much about other people’s lives. This can feed obsessive behaviors, frustration, or insecurity, such as constantly checking what an ex or former friend are doing. It allows you to see all of the best moments in people’s lives, even the ones you didn’t get invited to.
It’s also important to note that there can be security risks to any online activity. Personal information can be leaked or stolen if you aren’t careful about who you interact with or which sites you share information with.
How should you use it?
Social media is an important networking tool. While a seemingly intimidating term, networking is simply the ability to remain connected with people who have connections to schools or fields that you are interested in. Once you’ve entered the workforce, these connections can help you open up a wide variety of opportunities for yourself or your company. Social networking sites and media sharing sites are the main ways you could do this, but even blogging sites and discussion forums could be helpful as well.
Being exposed to diverse content from other cultures can help you learn about social injustices around the world and within your own country. A social media platform is a great way to become involved with social justice. This encourages you to become a better active participant in your country by being a more informed voter, for example. It also fosters successful habits, such as taking initiative on solving problems that are important to you.
Lastly, social media builds your online presence. It demonstrates traits that universities and employers like: that you’re able to promote yourself and your content, you can use the resources you have to influence others and take part in your community. Being able to do this also allows you to create additional opportunities for yourself. Doing so can show experience in school or job applications. For example, Delia Cai, a growth and trends editor at Buzzfeed, used the online newsletter she started for fun as a form of writing experience for a job interview because she hadn’t been able to get any in her previous jobs. Ultimately, social media, if used strategically, can be a very effective way to gain experience, make indispensable connections, and build skills that will serve you throughout your life.
The 7 Different Types Of Social Media. (2019, December 20). Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://biteable.com/blog/the-7-different-types-of-social-media/
Aacap. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Social-Media-and-Teens-100.aspx
Knorr, C. (2019, March 29). Perspective | Five ways social media can be good for teens. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2018/03/19/5-ways-social-media-can-be-good-for-teens/
Teens and social media use: What's the impact? (2019, December 21). Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/teens-and-social-media-use/art-20474437