The dark underbelly of social mediaStudies have linked the use of social media to anxiety, depression, lower self-esteem and inattention.
Over the past decade, technology has leapt in an immeasurable and indefinable way. People who once depended mainly on three sources to acquire information—newspapers, radio or TV—have now switched to their smartphones or computers, scrolling endlessly. Then there are social media platforms which have connected people in unimaginable ways. While it has made communication easy, we cannot turn a blind eye on how adversely it has affected us, especially the young generation who are as good as being born with a smartphone.
A few months back, I was taken aback during a parent-teacher meeting, when one of the guardians talked about an incident with his teenager. While being asked about the student’s deteriorating performance in class, extra-curricular activities and depleting social traits, the father expressed utmost helplessness, despite being an educationist himself. His child would lock himself up in the room or bathroom for hours and be on social media and play online games—every single day. The parents seemingly had no sense of control over what the child was watching on screen. When confronted, the child would resist angrily, even threatening to go out to the local cybercafe should the internet service be discontinued at home. Helpless, the parents succumbed.
In another instance, I met a troubled mother of an adolescent who arrived in the meeting with a stack of her child's medical reports. This child had not been performing well lately despite being an achiever a few years back. Tearfully, she revealed those reports were about the psychological condition of her daughter, who, she mentioned, was on the verge of slipping into depression. She also alarmed everyone present in the room saying that her daughter was losing her confidence, the primary reason behind it being her friends in school. Diving deeper into the matter, we discovered that she had been continually bullied by her classmates, who would pass hurtful comments on social media. Her friends had even gone to the extent of creating a social media group to defame her. The contents on the group were quite disturbing, even for an adult. Thankfully, the matter got resolved before further damage was done.
These are just a few representative instances which I have observed within my professional experience. Social media is a hundred-billion dollar industry which targets mainly the vulnerable age group between ages 12 to 19 years. This does not, however, mean that adults remain untouched from this. Reports have shown that social media hires professionals who design it to be addictive and appealing, and young people can be especially vulnerable to this.
Studies have linked the use of social media to anxiety, depression, lower self-esteem, inattention, and so on. Being under continual exposure to carefully construct a positive image of their lives can leave a young mind feeling insufficient and inadequate; these conditions are but natural. More horrific are the effects of 'online trolling' or 'cyberbullying’ which in extreme cases have even triggered suicide. Tyler Clementi—a young American who jumped off a bridge in 2010 after a video of him kissing a man was posted on Twitter without his consent is a case in point. Examples abound.
Some scientists have claimed that the long term exposure to social media can get our brains wired in the wrong way, especially the developing brains of young ones. This may manifest into some real cognitive and social consequences, leaving us distracted in the future and even interrupting our work, creativity and relationships. So how can we protect ourselves and our loved ones from the inevitable consequences of using social media?
While some may argue that social media is an excellent means to entertain, stay informed, stay connected to the world and even pave opportunities to come your way, its cons outnumber its benefits. Young people need to realise that persistence and hard work are still the core values essential to be successful professionally and morally.
The effects of social media warrant an urgent intervention. We should return to our long-deserted values of compassion and empathy to create meaningful relationships outside of the computer screen. They need to know that one can still have fun watching the scenery, reading books, chatting face to face and playing outdoor games. While adults may still learn to be mindful about this digital world and use it with minimal risks, we cannot take a chance with the younger generation.
What do you think?
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