By: Jennifer Hall
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumbler have had a profound impact on the ability of people—both young and old—to identify, cultivate, and grow communities through shared online content and commentary. But what effects does social media’s culture have on young participants?
Because today’s social media giants have only been with us since the mid-2000s, little long-term research has been done to assess the effects of social media participation on young users. Some trends, however, seem to be emerging.
There’s no doubt that social media has the ability to bring people of common interests and identities together. Here are just a few of its positive effects.
Before social media, finding and maintaining a community of like-minded individuals was challenging. Social media has allowed users to participate in real-time interactions with other users around the globe—which can be invaluable to helping young people in marginalized groups feel less alone. Groups that have benefitted from social media’s power to connect people include youth in the LGBTQ community, familial abuse survivors, and young people with mental health challenges.
Social media also provides invaluable opportunities for young people to find support or mentorship for the struggles they face, such as addiction, depression, and family problems. It allows for frank dialogue and provides opportunities to connect vulnerable youth populations with the services and support they need.
One of the reasons social media is so popular is that it’s fun. It allows young participants to share their artwork, music, videos, memes, and jokes, and to receive encouragement and feedback from others within the community.
Even with all its benefits, social media has also exhibited a dark side, characterized by cyberbullying, reckless challenges, body shaming, and even hate speech—any of which can place vulnerable teens at risk.
It’s no secret that social media emphasizes “likes” as a way to build its communities. But when seeking the approval of others online becomes the primary focus of a person’s social media experience, it can be a red flag. Young people have gone to some extreme (and often dangerous) lengths to garner likes on social. These include risky pranks, stunts, or challenges; radical changes in appearance; and judgmental or exclusionary behavior.
At its most extreme, negative behavior in online social media communities can become abusive. All too many headlines over the past 15 years have shown that vulnerable teens can be pushed into depression, and even suicide, by cyberbullies. And despite efforts by some social media platforms to institute “zero tolerance” policies against cyberbullying, the practice continues.
Social media has created a powerful dynamic that encourages users to compare themselves to others. In such an environment, it’s easy to see how the struggle for approval and recognition can place already vulnerable teens at risk. The approval of others is a compelling motivator, and it can lead many young people to defy their best judgment and engage in risky online stunts, to join in the group condemnation of another community member, or even to self-harm.
Humans rely on face-to-face contact to flavor our communication with nonverbal cues. These cues help us know when another person is joking, threatening, or attempting to deceive us. Without these nonverbal cues, social media can often leave us guessing about the intent behind another user’s comments. This environment can be a fertile field for miscommunication, misunderstanding, and conflict.
At Key Assets Kentucky, we are experienced in working with youth at risk. Our trained therapists understand how the dynamics of social media participation can impact young people, especially those in marginalized communities. If you or someone you love is struggling with emotional or mental health problems exacerbated by online abuse, we can help.
Contact us today and discover a world of healing at Key Assets Kentucky.
Key Assets Kentucky, is a behavioral health and child caring company based in Central Kentucky. Through our Key Assets Behavioral Health program and Children in Community Care program, we seek to positively impact the lives of children, young people, their families. We specialize in offering support services via residential treatment group home care for youth with autism and/or developmental disabilities, and behavioral health therapy and case management services for youth, adults and families in times of crisis. Key Assets Kentucky is part of the Key Assets Group, an international group of companies delivering a continuum of services for children, adults and families.