In this digital age, it’s so easy to get caught up in the dizzying whirlwind of trends and tweets that make up social media. Indeed, the near-crushing load of today’s news, the constant pressure to live up to societal expectations, and feelings of inadequacy of one’s life or appearance get quite hard to carry at times for most, and for teenagers like myself, it’s no different.
Today, statistics from recent surveys by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think tank based in Washington, DC, state that nearly 90 percent of teens have at least one active social media profile. According to an article by Digital Marketing Philippines, 65 percent of the 40 million active social media users worldwide are, in fact, teenagers and young adults.
“For teenagers, the combined weight of vulnerability, the need for validation and a desire to compare themselves with peers forms a perfect storm of self-doubt,” says Dr. Donna Wick, a clinical psychologist and the founder of Mind-to-Mind Parenting.
Though there’s no denying that social media apps like Facebook and Instagram provide effective means of activism, communication, entertainment and self-expression, it’s important to remember that these platforms generally operate without moral codes whatsoever, making bullying and harassment rampant, as well as predatory behavior and the spread of false information.
There are an estimated 500,000 online predators active each day, lurking even on apps geared toward children. Teens between the ages of 12 and 15 are especially susceptible to be groomed or manipulated by adults they meet online, and an estimated 89 percent of sexual advances directed at children occur in internet chat rooms or social media websites.
Predators looking to groom children online often pretend to be their age, building an identity on fake profile pictures and pretending to share similar interests. Once a relationship between the adult and the victim is established, the circumstances often steer toward forcing the minor to send explicit photos of themselves, the exchange of pornographic material and blackmail.
Aside from its immediate dangers, social media has also been proven to affect one’s mental health. A study out of the University of Pittsburgh found a correlation between time spent scrolling through social media platforms and negative body image feedback. People who had spent more time online had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating disorders and body image concerns compared to their peers who spent less time on social media.
As people living in the 21st century, to function without the internet is unfeasible. But how can we make it a safer place for children and adults alike?
First of all, be kind. It may seem like a childish, tepid sentiment, but kindness in itself repels hate, and in a world where there’s so much of it, it’s all we need. Leave a nice comment instead of a mean one, and share your opinions instead of forcing them on others.
Next, protect your online data. Shield information with passwords to avoid scams, safeguard your devices from viruses and spyware and keep what you want to keep private, private. Stand up for yourself, and don’t be afraid to click the block button if someone is making you uncomfortable. Encourage authenticity, but don’t put down people who create.
Lastly, remember that like our gadgets that need to be recharged, it’s alright to take some time to log off, shut down, rest and rejuvenate. In a society obsessed with ideals of unrealistic productivity and the “grind,” don’t forget that the burnout starts when fuel isn’t added to the fire.
Oftentimes, we find ourselves struggling to keep up with the ever-changing standards and narratives of what the internet defines as the “perfect life.” To many, it’s one involving flawless looks, extravagant vacations and straight As. But is one’s worth really defined by numbers? Is it followers, likes or what you see on a weighing scale or report card that dictates the course of your existence?
Though it may not be the picture-perfect Instagram-worthy series of snaps, I find that the best life is the one worth living, and how you live it is up to you. —CONTRIBUTED INQ
The author is a Grade 8 student of Homeschool Global Philippines.