It is no secret that social media is taking a toll on teenagers, especially girls. Filters and photo editing mask a seemingly perfect life and emphasize unrealistic beauty standards and constant comparisons. This often leads to low self-esteem and body image concerns.
Having the ability to post, comment and share anonymously prevents bullying and rumors from spreading at the touch of a button. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 59% of American teens have been bullied or harassed online. The connection between social media and poor mental health among adolescents is even more pronounced. A 2016 study from the University of Glasgow found that greater social media use was associated with poorer sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression. While there is not enough research at this time to definitively state causation, there is a clear link between the rise of social media and increased rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents.
In the United States, parents, teachers, and even legislators work hard to censor content that teens consume. For example, Utah and Arizona have introduced legislation blocking access to online pornography. This year, states across the country have limited how races can be taught in schools. Now, many are pushing for Congress to update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to increase the age of children legally allowed to give up their data to children between the ages of 13 and 16. . But accessibility isn’t the issue here, and restrictions won’t solve anything.
Social media can do a lot of good. Social media allows teens to expand their social networks, which can be especially beneficial for teens living in remote areas, identifying minority groups or people with disabilities. This relationship can also be extremely positive and empowering. Social media allows exposure to new ideas, creativity and self-expression. They can be places to simply have fun or even be places to find support and reach out for help. Not only teens, but everyone, can come in contact with positive role models, scientists, activists and educators all over the world through social media.
Yes, social media giants like Facebook (now Meta) can and should change their apps to better protect their users. For example, Instagram can crack down on hate speech, and prohibit shadow-ban — covert censorship of an individual, subject or community deemed “inappropriate” — from educational content for LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color. To post, while clearly not racist posts. Snapchat may stop promoting filters that distort people’s faces and bodies. TikTok can monitor and remove comments that harass and threaten users.
These changes and other changes will make social media a safer place for all. However, the onus to restrict access is not solely on companies, nor on the government. Consumers of this content play a role in maintaining the downside of social media by promoting algorithms and updates. Then what happens?
Adults are constantly looking for ways to protect young people from the issues that are an essential part of growing up in the 21st century. This is not to say that all teenagers should be given free access to the Internet all day, every day. We all know teens can be impulsive and irrational, but they are smarter and more capable than we give them credit for.
It is during this time that teens find out who they are, mistakes and all. It is in adolescence that they begin to have abstract ideas, challenge the status quo, define their own sense of self and develop a sense of novelty. Adolescence is when we flourish as human beings, and social media has the power to fuel that important development.
Instead of restricting social media use or access to pornography, we should have an open conversation about them. Because it is not the Internet that is causing harm; This is lack of education. Teens need to be taught about healthy boundaries when it comes to social media and that responsibility rests with parents, teachers, and a teen in their life.
Let’s talk to teenagers about how social media platforms make them feel; About what we see on the Internet is not always true. Let’s educate our teens about boundaries and online safety; On healthy and fulfilling sexual relationships. Teenagers want to be treated like adults, and we can give them some freedom by talking to them, not hiding things from them.
Emma McCarthy is a health communications writer and creator of Public Health 4 All. He wrote it for the Chicago Tribune.