Social media is a staple in the lives of people around the globe. It is how we connect with other people, get the latest information, and share our thoughts and feelings with other people. We have become addicted to our technology, especially social media networks. Before the 1970s, social networking was unheard of. CompuServe was one of the first sites used to communicate with others outside of using email. It was set up for business professionals to be able to share files and receive information on the latest news and events happening. In the 1980s, it became a public domain where anyone could be a part of discussion boards and communicate with others. By the 1990s, there was a huge leap in the use of technology. Yahoo was created as an email and instant messaging site, Amazon was selling books, and companies were trying to get computers into every household possible. The 2000s brought about the social media sites that we are most familiar with such as MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Facebook started as a domain for Harvard students, but in 2006, it became a public domain and has grown to be the most widely used social media site in the world (Digital Trends Staff). Social networking sites began as a way for adults to get in touch or keep in touch with their work place and friends. Today, it is open to everyone and the primary users are children and teenagers. The Pew Research Center found that seventy three percent of teens with the ability to be online are using social media sites (Lenhart 4). Out of this large percentage, there are many teens that are facing the negative effects of the presence of social media. Social media can be an efficient way to network and communicate as an adult, but children and teens face life long struggles by growing up in this technologically advanced age. By looking at the many studies done on this subject we find that the overuse of social media can cause communication and social anxieties, low self-esteem from bullying, and an addiction to technology. Parents need to be wary and children need to be informed of the negative effects that social media is having because they can cause lasting harm to the emotional and intellectual state of a young person.
The first negative effect from social media is the addiction to technology. We are constantly bombarded with emails, text messages, and status updates that make us feel like we can't be away from our phones or computers for more than a few seconds. Matt Richtel's article “Hooked on Technology, and Paying a Price” states “researchers worry that constant digital stimulation like this creates attention problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already struggle to set priorities and resist impulses” (Richtel 386). Adults are better at handling this amount of information than children are. They have had time to practice priority making and staying on task because many adults did not grow up with much of the technology available today. Children will learn to rely heavily on the information they get and emotional ties they make through the Internet, and that can start problems such as short attention spans and social anxieties. Being hooked on technology can also distance people from one another. Richtel quotes Mr. Nass from Stanford saying, “The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other. It shows how much you care” (Richtel 387). If children are brought up only befriending others through social media or other online avenues, they lose a sense of empathy and belonging that comes through in-person interaction. Relying heavily on technology as the sole source of communication can stunt a child's intellectual and emotional growth.
It has been shown that adolescents that use technology as their main form of communication can develop social anxiety and fears of face-to-face communication. A social anxiety will take effect when needing to communicate with others in person. In more severe cases it could take effect at the thought of having to have a face-to-face conversation. In her study about social anxieties, Tamyra Pierce said that the symptoms of this phobia can “often include anxiety, depression and an overall uncomfortable feeling that influences one's ability to interact in social situations” (Pierce 1.3). This anxiety is often a result of being able to hide behind a computer for most of their communication. Social media has given shy children and teens a way to stay away from excessive personal interaction in their everyday lives. Pierce quotes another study on this subject in stating that “for socially anxious individuals, communicating with others on the Internet in a text-based manner may allow them to avoid aspects of social situations they fear while at the same time to partially meet their needs for interpersonal contact and relationship” (Pierce 1.3). This could be viewed as a positive aspect of social media because it is giving them a way to communicate where they were not able to before, but if an individual does not face their fear then they will struggle with it for the rest of their lives.
Social media sites have created a sense of belonging in adolescents due to the friendships they have made on the Internet. If they have a social anxiety, adolescents are likely to find refuge in these friendships because they can make them without any actual contact. Researchers have made an effort to focus their studies on the changing nature of friendship due to technology. In the article “Antisocial Networking”, the author, Hilary Stout, dives into the question of whether social media is strengthening friendships or “whether the quality of their interactions is being diminished without the intimacy and emotional give and take of regular, extended face-to-face time” (Stout). There is evidence that the ease of use of technology is taking away the need for close personal relationships. Friendships can teach a child a lot about how to interact with other and be a part of society. Technology is taking away that ability by keeping children from interacting with people their own age and otherwise. Professor Parker of the University of Alabama is quoted in the article in saying that close friendships “are essential to allowing kids to develop poise and allowing kids to play with their emotions, express emotions, all the functions of support that go with adult relationships” (Stout). Children are able to learn abilities that will benefit them throughout their lives. The ability to deal with emotions, for example, goes hand-in-hand with dealing with cyber-bullying and low self-esteem. These problems are mostly seen in the teenage years when emotions and hormones control our thoughts and feelings. If children can learn how to deal with these emotions, then they can decrease the emotional and physical risks that come with these issues. The friendships found online cannot prepare children and teens for the interactions they will face everyday of their lives. We need human interaction to be able to take part in what society has to offer us.
Low self-esteem is a problem that almost everyone faces, especially as teenagers. Social media is playing a large part in this since its popularity has increased over the past few years. People are constantly posting pictures and statuses in the hope that others will like and give positive feedback on them. There was a study published in the CyberPsychology and Behavior journal about the relationship between friend networking sites and adolescents' self-esteem. They produced and distributed a survey about the subjects' use of social media and how it affects their feeling about themselves. Their results concluded that “adolescents' self-esteem was affected solely by the tone of the feedback that adolescents received on their profiles: Positive feedback enhanced adolescents' self-esteem, and negative feedback decreased their self-esteem” (Vulkenburg 589). There are two sides to this coin: social media can be a positive influence on those who use it, but they can become addicted to the positive feedback. They post more pictures and statuses craving the positive comments that they received previously. As soon as they receive one harmful comment their self-esteem plummets again. Adolescents are basing their self-worth on the opinions of others and it can be detrimental to their emotional health. The lack of self-esteem can also cause children, particularly young girls, to fall prey to sexual predators. There are countless accounts of an unknown person paying attention to and complimenting young people in the hope that they can lure them into a trap. The young person will plan to meet this unknown predator and be kidnapped and never seen again. Self-esteem can determine how a person thinks and acts. We should not take lightly the threat that social media poses to the emotional side of a child or teen.
Social media has made it easier for people to be anonymously hurtful to each other. People that take part in this are commonly called trolls. Jaron Lanier, in his article “Trolls”, describes a troll as “a term for an anonymous person who is abusive in an online environment” (Lanier 371). These people can cause serious harm to those that they target with their insults and aggressive comments. The Pew Research Center found that “88% of American teens have witnessed cruelty on social networks, and 13% have felt nervous about going to school the next day because of something that happened online” (Dickey 43). Cyber-bullying happens all of the time and not many people realize the effect it is having on children and teens. This doesn't only happen between adolescents. There are adults that get involved with causing harm to the younger generation. In the article, Lanier mentioned a story where a woman created a fake account as a younger boy to get close to and finally break the heart of one of her daughter's peers. This situation caused the young girl with the broken heart to commit suicide (Lanier 372). There are stories everywhere of people who have been bullied on the Internet that end their lives because they feel as if they have nowhere else to turn. Social media sites have made it very easy to harm others without anyone knowing exactly who you are. Limited information is needed to start a profile on many sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It is very easy to fake the information you give and to change it whenever you please. Anonymity can be a good way to give an honest opinion about something without consequence, but it becomes a problem when the intent of those opinions is to hurt someone else.
As social media is becoming more popular, there needs to be a way of communicating the risks that are involved. One study that has been done uses the school system to educate students in a classroom setting. There are three main risks to social networking sites: content risks, contact risks, and commercial risks. For the study, they made up packages of information pertaining to each of the risk areas. The researchers distributed them to schools and had the educators use the packages in class to see if implementing the information into the school system will have any effect on the attitude and behavior toward social media. The students were given a pre- and post-test to observe if their behavior and attitude toward the risks changed. The results showed that there was increased awareness, but it had little effect on what the students did with the information (Vanderhoven 124-129). The study has shown that there are possibilities at increasing awareness of the negatives of social media. This information can be even more effective if brought to attention in every facet of everyday life. Some ways could include media coverage, education in schools, and parental guidance on the issue. Parents also need to be aware of the risks involved in letting their children interact online. They might have a stronger influence on children than an educator can. This study is only one of the ways that children can be exposed to the true nature of social media. With a constant reminder we may be able to see a change in the apathetic attitude of children and teens in today's society.
Technology was created to help us do things were we previously unable to do. Even social media has helped to break boundaries with communication, but it has come at a price. Social media has caused children and teens to become addicted to their technology, develop social anxieties, and feel uncomfortable with who they are or how they look. Technology is changing the way friendships are made and maintained. The relationships made on social networking sites can be dangerous and unhealthy to those who use it as their only way of feeling like they belong. There are many studies on this subject because it is very important with the growing amount and popularity of technology and social media. Parents and their children need to be made aware of the dangers of becoming too involved in their online profiles because it can cause lasting damage in a child's life. Social media is usually portrayed by society as a sign that you are with the times, but children and teens need to be made aware that a high status in society is not as important as their emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being.
Dickey, Jack. "The Antisocial Network." Time 184.1 (2014): 40-45. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.
Digital Trends Staff. "The History of Social Networking." Digital Trends. N.p., 04 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
Lanier, Jaron. “Trolls.” The Carolina Rhetoric. Ed. Lee Bauknight with Gerald Jackson. Southlake: Fountainhead Press, 2015. 371-379. Print.
Lenhart, Amanda, et al. "Social media and young adults." Pew Internet & American Life Project 3 (2010).
Pierce, Tamyra. "Social Anxiety and Technology: Face-to-face Communication versus Technological Communication among Teens." Computers in Human Behavior 25.6 (2009): 1367-372. Print.
Richtel, Matt. “Hooked on Technology, and Paying a Price.” The Carolina Rhetoric. Ed. Lee Bauknight with Gerald Jackson. Southlake: Fountainhead Press, 2015. 381-387. Print.
Stout, Hilary. "How Does Technology Affect Kids' Friendships?" New York Times 2 May 2010, New York ed.: ST1. Print.
Vanderhoven, Ellen, Tammy Schellen, and Martin Valcke. "Educating Teens About The Risks On Social Network Sites. An Intervention Study In Secondary Education." Comunicar 22.43 (2014): 123-131. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
Vulkenburg, Patti M., Ph.D., Jochen Peter, Ph.D., and Alexander P. Schouten, M.A. "Friend Networking Sites and Their Relationship to Adolescents' Well-Being and Social Self-Esteem." CyberPsychology & Behavior 9.5 (2006): 584-90. Web.