In the age of social media domination, mental health is an issue that continues to become more and more prominent all the time. And this has never been truer than it is in the case of young people who use social media. For millions of people, social media is a way to stay instantaneously connected with people from around the world, but for others, it is a place that is rife with impressionism – not all of which is positive. For young people, going online is a way to stay connected and to be a part of the demographic and groups that appeal to them. While there is not necessarily anything wrong with this, what is disturbing is the amount of times that young peoples’ socials become a battleground, where comparison and idealism form a dangerous web that can even turn deadly, in the most extreme of cases. In a world that is so hinged on the ideal perfection that is showcased through social media, it can be easy for young people to get the impression that others on social media platforms have a perfect life, and this can lead to them striving for the same sense of idealism – a sense that, ultimately, is unrealistic, no matter who you are. But that is the power – and the danger – of social media.
So, with this in mind, are there any positive impacts that social media can have on youth? It is a question that is not black and white to answer, at the end of the day, but it is one that continues to persist all the same. Our understanding of mental health and its complexities is an ongoing process, and in the case of young people specifically, mental health is a fragile facet of overall health. Social media plays into that in intriguing but dangerous ways, all the time. Social media platforms are designed to be virtual environments that allow individuals the world over to communicate instantaneously and without reservation. While this has been a successful achievement, it has not come without its costs. The nature of social media has slowly but surely over time evolved to become somewhat toxic. This has happened as the notion of social media platforms has begun to delve into the competitive or comparative nature of social media. For young people, social media can feel like just another environment they struggle to navigate and find their place in.
Of course, young people are utilising different avenues to try to bridge the gap themselves. These days, people buy Instagram likes in a bid to achieve virtual validation that, to them, feels very real. If they cannot afford to purchase that kind of validation, they look to alter themselves to fit the aesthetic that it seems is most popular for social media. Body dysmorphia, mental health ailments, and all manners of health problems can arise in the quest for belonging. It can be a dark place, and when young people are so impressionable, it can also be a place that becomes too dark for them to find their way out. This is when loneliness can occur, and if left unchecked, can develop into tragedy more easily than most would like to admit. So, with all this awareness, one could be forgiven for assuming that social media has no positive impacts on youth at all. After all, how can a place that provokes so much comparison and isolation also have room for positive reinforcement? But alas, it does.
While social media can be a dark place for youth, it can also have overwhelmingly positive impacts. Social media support groups are one of the most underrated parts of social media for young people. While there is a definitive rate of comparison and isolation that undertones social media use for young people (or for anyone in general using social media, for that matter), it is also true that people can find comfort in the support of others who, like them, have felt the loneliness or isolation that comes hand in hand with the nature of social media. Additionally, social media gives the youth of today a voice to stand up for issues that they believe it, and while it can sometimes result in heated arguments and debates, it often results in overwhelming support and love, and that gives young people a sense of belonging and welcome that they sometimes find difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in the real world. Yes, social media can be a dark place, but it can also offer a reprieve and a place where young people can belong – a safe place.
We live in the age of social media domination. This is a world that we have created from the sheer will to be able to communicate immediately and without reservation, regardless of where in the world the contact we are trying to reach might be. In this regard, social media has been a tremendous success, proving itself time and again to be a force to be reckoned with. However, the largest downfall of social media has been, without a doubt, the effects that it has on the young and impressionable. Young people are already so impressionable at those ages, but when you throw in the vast pressures of social media and that entire online landscape, it can prove to be dangerous. Over the years – and especially in recent years – it has been found time and again that social media has a distinctively negative impact on youth and their mental health (and the mental health of people of all ages, for that matter). But even though this is undeniably true, social media can be – and often is – a place of bright light, a place where young people can go to incite positive change and to feel a part of something, like they belong. It is of course a fine line, so at the end of the day, regulation and open conversation about young peoples’ experiences with social media is paramount.