The Surgeon General’s report about social media’s effects on young people is may not surprise many adults.
But what do teenagers themselves think? I asked one.
Staples High School senior — and “06880” intern — Colin Morgeson writes:
Last Tuesday, the New York Times ran an article about the dangers of social media. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy issued a public warning, citing social media’s possible “harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
I mean, yeah, fair enough.
From my own experience, it’s the addictiveness of social media that’s truly the problem. As a regular Instagram user and a semi-frequent Twitter browser, I’ve spent hours on end scrolling through reels I don’t truly care about, and wading through endless seas of tweets about the latest controversies that don’t affect me in any way at all.
Of course these platforms don’t have any feature to remind you to stop browsing, so it’s easy to lose track of time.
Colin Morgeson checks his social media feed, in the Staples High School cafeteria.
The article also mentions the health detriments of social media use displacing sleep and exercise. While I think any technology is capable of distracting from more important activities, I often push my bedtime back (in small, “okay, this time is actually the last one” increments) to accommodate particularly interesting events unfolding on social media. (I will not remember anything about them in a week.)
The article also highlights social media’s destructive potential towards mental health, claiming “as social media use has risen, so have self-reports and clinical diagnoses among adolescents of anxiety and depression, along with emergency room visits for self-harm and suicidal ideation.”
It’s not difficult to see how social media can cause such negativity towards oneself. Online, people tend to present idealized versions of themselves and their lives, making the reality of one’s own life pale in comparison.
It’s amazing to see the contrast between idealization and reality: the accounts of many of the people I follow present over-exaggerated happiness and success, which I know is completely different from their real life experiences. It becomes clear how addiction and idealization can be a dangerous combination.
A 2022 study noted in the article points out a positive effect of social media. Social media allows young people to connect with others that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, allowing them to find communities and build connections.
In my experience, this is social media’s greatest strength. But I also believe social media’s ability to connect people is overstated. I’ve had online exchanges with others with similar interests, allowing me to learn new perspectives and the prevailing issues of the day in certain online communities. Movies, sports, music — everyone seems to have an opinion on everything.
However, I think these exchanges primarily serve someone’s own interest, rather than building genuine connections. Unless you truly commit to delving into the (often dangerous) world of regularly corresponding with strangers, at the end of the day the only “community” you’ll have built is a collection of familiar usernames and profiles.
Can social media be used for good? Absolutely.
For example, I use the “story” feature of Instagram to collect information for “06880 On The Go.”
Ultimately, I believe it’s a matter of spending time wisely — and remembering the value of real world experiences and connections.