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After 25 years of social media, it's still a case of good, bad and downright ugly

Media Academy

When the first form of social media came out exactly 25 years ago, little did we know how big of an impact it would have on today’s youth.

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Adolescents nowadays use social media from memes to politics, but what impact does this dramatic shift in society have on the mental health of teens today?

Firstly, social media can be an outlet for young people to find communities in which they feel heard and understood. According to clinical psychologist Dr Shilpa Madiwale, social media has helped create spaces where everyday people can share their experiences with millions of people. This consequently provides people with a safe space to share their stories; it helps create communities.

Social media can also help young people stay connected with loved ones.

“My kids and I use social media to stay in touch with our family and friends. I really like to use it to keep in touch with distant relatives or childhood friends who I don’t get the opportunity to see very often.” says Supreet Sethi, mother of two.

And in the case of a global pandemic, social media can be a great way for teens to stay connected with loved ones while also adhering to restrictions.

Moreover, a study done by Mesfin Awoke Bekalu shows that routine use of social media can actually be beneficial. Specifically, routine social media use is shown to be positively linked to social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health.

Social media has also created the opportunity for mental health professionals to go online and help those in need, by creating videos or blogs about how to cope with mental health struggles. And as people reach out for help, strategies such as this are a great way to provide support to adolescents of a lower socioeconomic status.

“Another thing that social media has been doing really well is allowing professionals to connect directly to a lot more people.” said Dr Madiwale.

However, social media does have its drawbacks. According to Madiwale, it can often increase levels of insecurity in its users. Many influencers show a perfect or ideal lifestyle through a curated feed resulting in adolescents who consume such content feeling insecure or worse.

Cyberbullying has also become a major issue in our society due to the rise of social media. Sam Cook, a data journalist, found in a study that 60 per cent of parents with children aged 14 to 18 reported them being bullied either at school or online. As well as this, cyberbullying is linked to depression and suicide among teenagers.

Nevertheless, we can continue moving in a positive direction by solving the issues with social media through media literacy education, the implementation of trigger warnings into our content, accountability on the part of creators and further regulation and rules put in place by social media companies. While social media has its pros and cons, we can continue to help make social media a safe and beneficial space for today’s teens.

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