As adults, we can postulate about the effects of social media on the younger generation. We may feel concern about our children’s engagement with the platforms, or even wonder what life would have been like if we had grown up in a world captured on – and largely dictated to by – Instagram, Facebook (although already outdated), Twitter and Snapchat.
But how accurate are we in our assumptions of the toll the technology is really taking on the youngsters of today? We ask 17-year-old Tayla de Bruyn to enlighten us.
Being a teenager is tough. And with the ever-pervasive presence of social media, it’s become even harder. We’re plagued by daily doses of comparison and FOMO (fear of missing out, for those not in the know) that can send us down an endless spiral of negativity and self-doubt.
As with any technology, social media can of course offer a host of advantages – if approached with good intentions and used sanely and in moderation. But for many a teenager, the nasty or inappropriate remarks that make their way into our inboxes and comments sections can have lasting emotional consequences.
While social media is supposed to bring us closer together, we have really never been more out of touch with one another. Our eyes are glued to the screens of our phones, rather than focused on the world around us – and the people in it.
As part of a generation raised in a social mediasaturated world, I have experienced moments of overwhelm in which I could only but view it as a waste of time at best, and a dangerous technology at worst.
My peers and I know full well the negative effect it is having on us, but we are creatures of habit and can’t stop ourselves from going further down the rabbit hole in spite of it. It’s little wonder there are now rehabilitation centres and facilities dedicated specifically to helping people overcome social media adddiction.
Particularly as teenagers, we want to feel like part of the crowd – to stay ‘in the loop’. So we check our feeds all day every day, commenting and comparing whilst criticising ourselves (and others) in the process.
While scrolling through Instagram, I’ll see something that piques my interest and start digging deeper – invariably comparing it to what I do or don’t have. A boyfriend, a bikini body, a ski holiday – the list is endless. And it really does have the power to push me into a dark crevasse of longing and self-loathing.
Even more concerning is the increasing number of cases of cyberbullying being brought to light each day. Thousands of teenagers across the globe are falling victim to this, with too many of them resorting to suicide as their only perceived way out.
Catfishing – the act of drawing someone into some form of relationship by means of a fake online persona – is also on the rise. In many instances, young girls and boys are being lured into sharing sexually inappropriate content, or into other dangerous situations in which they are harassed or otherwise abused – usually by an older person.
Perhaps the most contradictory aspect of the technology is its ability to foster international solidarity (such as around the recent issue of genderbased violence) while simultaneously distancing us from the people closest to us.
Although social media does have the potential to expose us to important issues around the world, the majority of the content consumed by the kids I know is narrow, superficial and largely unhelpful. While citizens of our country are being raped, murdered and oppressed, we’re learning the art of the perfect contour or counting the calories in our bestie’s breakfast.
If we’re able to leverage social media’s ability to move us forward technologically, economically and – in some instances – socially, there is of course much good to be gained. But as someone who has been exposed to it my entire life, I’ve really seen more negative than positive results.
At the end of the day it’s not really something we can escape, so it’s up to each of us to learn to navigate the risks and rewards in as sane a way as possible.
Just remember that nasty things spread on social media just as quickly as good things do – if not faster. Like my mom always says, “Whatever you put on the internet stays on the internet forever.”