Plugged in or checked out?: The impact of social media on teenagers

“[Social media] makes people lack physical connections and contact and it makes people feel less emotion-filled. People are instead seeking the approval of their followers,” senior Braeden Culbertson said. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Walking down the halls can be a challenging affair as not many people are looking up. Eyes stare down at tiny glowing screens held carefully in each student’s hand. Someone stops in front of you and smiles at their camera, snapping a quick hallway selfie to send out to the masses. People stroll by, talking on the phone, texting down the stairs, Facetiming in the midst of the passing period chaos.

A typical day in the life of a teenager these days starts and ends with their phone in hand. According to a report published by CNN on November 23, 2015, teens are spending up to nine hours a day on their various social media platforms, with a majority checking social media 100 times a day. Technology use has increased dramatically as we plunge into the digital age. As the first generation raised on smartphones, it can be seen that our generation differs in many ways from those who came before us.

Picture perfect

By simply looking at our modern society, it’s clear we are hooked on social media. However, despite social media’s climbing popularity, it’s not always as harmless and glamorous as it appears to be.

“Social media does not depict an accurate picture of someone’s life. People naturally seek affirmation from the social groups they are involved in, so that pressure to look good is intensified when the social groups are expanded to hundreds or thousands of people. We want to post the best of what happens in our life, particularly because it has the ability to reach such a large number of people,” junior and Instagram user Kathryn Countryman said.

Someone’s social media presence can often look attractive and perfect, as the bad-hair-days and messy rooms aren’t broadcasted to the world. When posting people tend to be very selective of what they choose to share. Despite this selectivity, some do try to make sure they still portray their lives accurately online.

“I do care what I post because I want to represent myself truthfully, while also wanting to be very careful that nothing I could retweet or repost could potentially hurt or offend anyone. Not that any of my beliefs or posts are controversial or hurtful to others, but this stigma in the online community causes me to greatly filter myself on social media and examine others a lot through their posts as well,” senior Lucie Kupres said.

Social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter allow people to share their lives with the world. Instagram’s mission statement says that its goal is to allow users to capture moments they deem important and share these moments with each other. Instagram’s 800 million users are all trying to share something with the world, but often what they share is not representative of their real life, which can lead to many problems for viewers.

Freshman Becky Blood stated that people use different social media platforms to express varying sides of themselves.


“Instagram is mostly fake and people are just trying to look cool, whereas on Twitter everyone complains about life,” Blood said.

Sophomore Kahili Tevega agreed that what is posted on social media does not paint the full picture of who someone is or what they are actually going through.

“People only post what they want people to see them as, and that only shows half of the picture,” Tevega said.  

Pros & cons

With pressure from society to have a perfect life, personal image has become a staple in this generations’ thought processes. The pressure social media creates can have a negative impact on some users. Despite this, however social media does have its positives that should not be forgotten.

An article by NBC published on October 22, 2017, stated that suicide-related hospital admissions for children/teens have nearly doubled since 2008. While this increase cannot be directly attributed to screen use, many people are beginning to take a closer look at the impacts of social media and technology on mental health.

“There is a lot more bullying and suicide because of social media. And people now compete to see who is the most popular on social media,” sophomore Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter user Angela Bautista said. “[Social media] makes people think that someone has a perfect life when in reality, they may struggle a lot more than [what] is shown.”  

School social worker Kathryn Ingemunson has seen first-hand the impact social media has and is having on teens, students, and on her four daughters.

“The judgments that take place on social media, the number of likes or dislikes, make adolescents feel very vulnerable, ostracized, and that sometimes makes kids feel depressed, anxious, or even, unfortunately, self-harm,” Ingemunson said. “I feel that as a parent there is a frustration of wanting kids to engage with each other more. They are so immersed in their own world.”

Ingemunson also notes however that social media is not all bad. In fact, when used properly and in moderation, she says social media can be a very useful tool to communicate and even help others.

“[Social media] can be good. Through social media we were actually able to alert another school that someone at their school was suicidal,” Ingemunson stated.

Not all people think that social media is hindering communication and relationships. According to the New York Daily News, one-third of U.S. marriages started with online dating, as meeting your partner online has lost much of its negative stigma in recent years.

“We benefit from [social media] because it improves our overall communication abilities,” senior David Bigus said.

Unfortunately for some, the obsession with personal image and hours spent online has manifested itself in an addiction to social media. Teens have the itching desire to scroll through their timeline and panic if their battery percentage falls below 50%. The constant need to stay plugged-in has greatly influenced how students function going about their daily lives.

“They can’t concentrate or have panic attacks, anxiety attacks, or feelings of anxiousness [because] of being worried about what people are doing online rather than what’s happening in class. I have already had a couple of those in my freshmen classes. Kids had to be taken out [of class] because of things posted online and they come back with their sad and anxious face and that can derail their whole day,” Sociology teacher Sarah Davies said.

Social media, especially when used during the school day, is also having a big effect on disciplinary issues and bullying across students. TeenSafe reports that 87% of young people have witnessed cyberbullying, with 34% of students saying they themselves have been bullied online.

“A lot of [issues] have started on social media or are made worse by it. It’s really easy to type something out and hit send without thinking about the consequences,” dean Kenneth McCarty said.

Text, tweet, repeat

As technology has developed, endless ways to communicate have been created and used by the public. One no longer has to put up the red flag on their mailbox and anxiously wait for a letter in reply. Technology has made communicating with people all over the world quick and easy, but senior Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook user Samantha Exner said that just because something is easy does not always mean it is beneficial in the long run.

“I think [technology] is making it easier to communicate, but it’s not necessarily improving our people skills,” Exner stated.

If one does not feel like using words, their feelings can be sent through a simple emoji. As Exner pointed out, the ease of communicating via text or social media has its benefits, but communicating through these forms may also be stunting our generation’s ability to actually communicate face-to-face.

“Students have a difficult time carrying on meaningful and deep conversations. They send a Snapchat as opposed to knowing how to call someone on the phone,” Ingemunson said.

Social media may not be promoting the healthiest form of communication among its users, but it does provide some with a way to maintain relationships with family and friends who live miles away.

Kupres’ sister has lived in California for almost five years. Having a family member live so far away can be challenging, but Kupres states that using technology and social media to communicate has allowed her to stay close to her sister despite the distance.

“I would honestly say that [technology] is benefiting relationships. I have many friends and people I’m close to who I don’t get to see very often, but since we have the technology we do, I’m still able to stay close with them and talk with them in quick and easy ways,” Kupres stated.

Social media has given people the ability to develop genuine relationships without face to face contact. However, many find it challenging to disconnect from their devices. A study done by Barna in 2016 shows that 64% of teens say that they spend the majority of their after school time watching movies or going online, while only 22% report spending time with their friends as their main after school activity.

“It is so hard to detach. When is the last time you left your phone somewhere for a whole day? You are always plugged in,” McCarty said.

Technology users now have the world at their fingertips, as the digital world keeps expanding faster than we can keep up with. Social media, the ping of a text, the message lighting up the black screen pull people in, and once that technological attachment is formed, it can be challenging to break, but not impossible.  

“Social media should never become a necessity. Though it is very beneficial to have, I would hate to stop valuing real human interaction, the outdoors, and just a generally technology free lifestyle due to social media and technological advancements,” Kupres said.

Emma Peake is an features writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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