Social media brings big risks; opportunities

Adolescents, who have the ability to connect constantly on their phones, may be putting themselves at a higher risk for mental health disorders and poor quality in personal relationships.

The entertaining features of smartphones have created an unhealthy atmosphere for some, where people are not living in reality. Because of this consistent use, problems like distorted body image, low self-esteem–and even extreme cases like suicide–have emerged as result, researchers say.

For teens like Ana Valera who feels connected always, the risks are on their minds.

“I think definitely a stigma around having the perfect Instagram body or just comparing yourself to other people that you see on social media, that can be very destructive,” said Valera, 16, talking about the negative impacts of social media.

Shuttle bus riders frequently stare at their mobile phones. By Reagan Gerrity.

With the constant scrolling and checking new updates, teens and young adults are more susceptible to the idea that their bodies are not good enough, comparing themselves to photos of models, celebrities or even their friends–not knowing that photos may have been altered. According to research, those who consume more social media place more of an importance on things like body image and how others perceive them, harming their self-esteem.

Social media has also impacted the way students interact in a learning environment, a fact noticed by several professors in the last five years.

Nicole Cox, an assistant professor of mass media at Valdosta State University in Georgia, said that even the way students wait for class has changed. There is no conversation, just people staring intently at a screen.

Cox also observed that phones have affected students’ attentions spans. She said they no longer have the ability to be engaged in class with something much more entertaining in their pocket.

Not only does social media impact a student’s classroom performance but it could be a matter of life and death.

13 Reasons Why, a Netflix original series, became extremely popular this year, but also brought about issues concerning copycat suicides.

“I could understand how people would think that it would romanticize suicide in a way,” Valera said.
“I feel that the intentions of the producers were to shed light on the issue of being bullied and suicide.

“Maybe the execution wasn’t as good as it could have been.”

13 Reasons Why displays suicide as the only way out for a troubled teenage girl, who uses it as revenge against people who upset her. Young people who have watched the fictional series worry this may give ideas to those who are already considering suicide.

“I feel like showing the suicide wasn’t really the best way to go about it,” said Saira Greywald,19, an American University student. “It may have been triggering to those who have gone through depression and attempted suicide.”

Despite what many see as the risks and potential for harm, social media does have benefits.

Some interviewed this week said it helps them communicate and stay connected with friends near and far.

“I feel like Snapchat helps you keep in touch with people even if you’re not around them because you’re seeing them everyday through pictures. And Instagram, you can see what people are up to,” said Caroline Down, 16, of Pittsburgh.

One must keep in mind that with the advancement of communications, comes the responsibility of managing social media and some of its negative impacts.

“It’s really negative,” Greywald said. “People compare themselves to other people and are constantly judging other people and themselves.”