The average American teenager spends up to nine hours per day on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and many more platforms allow people of all backgrounds to have a voice and connect in the virtual world. Especially as a member of the younger generation, I understand how social media can take control of our lives.
Growing up we have all heard the negative side effects of social media, but do we really understand how these small apps on our phones impact our brains? According to a UCLA study, the brain’s reward center, the nucleus accumbens, lights up when people receive “likes” on social media. People strive for this acceptance, and this addiction of social media is now more prevalent than the addiction to cigarettes and alcohol.
According to Dr. John Richey, a Virginia Tech associate professor in the psychology department, “Humans are uniquely cooperative and social creatures, and we likely need to interact with others in order for our brains to develop optimally. Restricting interactions to a relatively artificial platform could potentially deprive a person of the richness of face-to-face social interaction, which includes many important nuances such as nonverbal cues displayed through the face and body.”
Instagram alone has more than 700 million users worldwide. Instagram and Snapchat are the two worst social media platforms for those with mental health disorders. Body image, sleep patterns and a sense of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) are all impacted when we log into our profiles.
There is a sense of a “perfect life” on people’s accounts. We all see the Snapchat stories of people laughing and having a great time. We all see the Instagram posts of beautiful people, happy, not a care in the world. However, these images do not show the rawness and true beauty of even the hard times of life.
This facade of “perfection” impacts the way we live our lives in reality. People who spend more than two hours per day on social media have a higher tendency to report a mental illness. Even without a mental health disorder, these platforms can make anyone feel negatively about themselves.
Now that you have the facts, what does all of this mean? How can we diminish these negative effects? How can we use social media for good?
First, we can decide to put our phones down more and focus on what is right in front of us. Yes, our virtual world has an abundance to offer, but it is not nearly as cool as who we are spending our time with and what we spend our days doing in reality.
Second, when we do use social media platforms, we can post positivity on our timelines rather than commenting or reading negativity. Follow people and organizations that are uplifting and inspiring. Post pictures and writings without filters that show people who you really are.
Lastly, remember that social media is not real. The images have been edited, the information has been altered and the people are only showing you what they want you to see. If we all were who we are on social media, there would be no authenticity and no one would truly know anyone.
Overall, social media is going to be a part of our lives for many years to come. These platforms will stay relevant, and we just have to make sure it becomes a positive aspect in the lives of those who use it.