Opinion by Mark – The Impact of Social Media

Social media has complex and varying effects on teenagers, affecting their mental health, self-esteem, social skills, and overall well-being. According to various sources, excessive social media use is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, poor body image, loneliness, and cyberbullying.

A report in the Lancet (2018) on social media use and adolescent mental health, which focussed on the effects of social media on teenagers studied almost 11,000 14 year olds and concluded that lengthy social media use was an influence on young people’s mental health. Interestingly, studies are beginning to add weight to the view that girls are particularly at risk. In their ‘Millennium Cohort Study’, Kelly et al. (2018) found a correlation between media consumption and depressive symptoms which were experienced more strongly in girls than boys.

Other studies of adolescents of both sexes who report using social media for longer periods of time, have found that users endure increased exposure to online harassment, reported poor sleep, low self-esteem and poor body image. Additionally, girls who spend larger amounts of time on social media report higher levels of body weight dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem.

A study by McManus et al in 2019, found that mental health problems were particularly prevalent in girls who, according to numerous studies, tend to spend longer consuming and participating in social media than boys. A study by Lopez and Lopez in 2020, found a correlation between hours of screen time, consumption of social media, poor mental health and academic underperformance.

This brings me on to what I call the ‘selfie culture’. The ‘look at me!’ posing, preening and perpetual posting pursued by narcissistic youngsters. This need for constant self-affirmation is one thing but the effect of projecting manufactured ‘perfection’ on others is quite another. Most of us recognise the unhealthy effect that images of stick thin, impossibly beautiful (but airbrushed) models have upon our young and the bombardment of similar images received from friends and peers have the same if not greater effect.

Never has the pressure to be ‘perfect’ been so intense, so demanding and so relentless – is it any wonder that our children’s mental health pays the price? With this comes one of the most important reasons mobile phones are not allowed in school at Durham Dubai; bullying. The text message, the comment, the group chat, these are the tools of the 21st century bully and whilst I cannot stop what goes on out of school, I am determined to we will do our best to protect our children in school and build their confidence for life.

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