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Social Networking: The Bane of a Generation
Social Networking: The Bane of a Generation
“Do you have a Facebook?” This is the question of a generation: one of the very first questions in a conversation when teens meet each other. That conversation can start at almost anything, from “Hey I’m wearing the same shirt as you!” to “I like that band too!” No matter where the conversation starts, teens are almost always drawn to the search for a username. Social networking sites are a fun, convenient way to make plans and stay connected, but teens can often form an attachment or addiction to them. Facebook and several other social websites bookmarked by today’s teenage generation bring with them negative side effects if used irresponsibly. Side effects of social media, both psychological and social, can have an extreme effect on teens; these problems must be addressed, managed, and prevented for the safety and security of today’s teenage generation.
Social networking sites are widely used across the country. In a 2011 United States census, 78.2% of the population admitted that they use the Internet on a daily basis. This 78.2% is radically greater than the 30.2% of the population of the world that uses the Internet regularly. (Chapin 11). WIth such a high percentage of America on the Internet, it is no surprise that many flocked to sites like Facebook. Some, however, quickly became infatuated with these sites. In fact, Facebook has more pageviews than any other website (11). According to work done by Dr. Stephanie Huffman, a researcher at the University of Central Arkansas, 42% of all users of social media are between the ages of eight and seventeen (154). Teenagers on social media are more vulnerable than they are in person, thus a social networking site, in certain conditions, can cause havoc.
One of the goals of a teenager is discovering and expressing self-identity. Being a part of social media can be a great way to socialize and discover. However, teens are sometimes pushed down the wrong path. This makes sense considering social media opens the door to many different social experiences, and overall more connection (Huffman 154). Unfortunately, many teens do not use social media responsibly, and often, self-portrayal can be more important to teens than self-identity. Many social networking sites allow the use of a profile picture, and most teens spend excessive amounts of time picking one out. After all, a profile picture is the very first picture that people see and the first piece of information that people judge. Teens generally pick the most attractive picture or one that makes one seem the most desirable (Nitzburg 1184). The competition to pick the best profile picture can make some teens victims of self-hate. They start comparing themselves to standards that fly far above the attainable beauty and values (Haferkamp 309-310). Most teens know that figures in the media are airbrushed and edited to impractical standards. However, these tools are easily accessible, making perfection just a click away. One particular social media site, Instagram, allows users to share photographs with friends. One of the features of the application for iPhone and other smart phones is a camera filter and other options to manipulate the photos that users have taken before they are posted (Rosenberg 1). Standards set on social networking sites can be almost as damaging as those set by the media, and insecurity often follows the viewing of these standards.
Self doubt in most teenagers is caused by social comparisons. In her research at the University of Münster, Nina Haferkamp, PhD, concluded that social comparisons occur “when people realize that the presented standard...is not attainable,” (Haferkamp 309). Unfortunately, social comparisons are inevitable on social media because of the amount of information that is put on a profile. It is difficult not to do a side by side comparison with a poster board of achievements, pictures, and occupations. Sometimes these social comparisons lead to negative feelings like depression and anxiety. The biggest danger that comes from social comparison is self dissatisfaction (Nitzburg 1184). When searching for self-identity, self-dissatisfaction, or insecurity can get in the way. Unfortunately, almost all teens on social networking sites are prone to social comparisons and insecurity. Social media is one of the direct causes of this social comparison and it is damaging to teens.
Many teens’ cause of self-consciousness is not just social comparison. Some are also subject to cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a phenomenon that occurs due to the new realm of Internet communication. In an informational fact sheet, Sameer Hinduja, PhD, an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, defines cyberbullying to be the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices,” (Hinduja 1). Cyberbullying takes place all over the Internet, and follows teens to whatever sites are frequented. It started initially in chatrooms, but as teens flocked to social networking sites it was inevitable that cyberbullying would follow (1).
Cyberbullying, one of the multiple risks of social media access, does not seem like a huge issue on the surface, but cyberbullying is a problem that is very difficult to control (Gowen 246). Bullying in school is a serious issue, but it is limited to school hours, when an aggressor can meet face-to-face with his or her victim. That eight hour window is expanded to all times of the day and night with cyberbullying (Huffman 155). A new aggressor that can still antagonize without having to face the immediate consequences can be easier than confrontation sometimes, thus, cyberbullying is becoming more and more common. In seven individual studies from 2004-2010, an average of 27% of teens admitted that they had been a victim of cyberbullying at some point in their life (see table 1).
Cyberbullying victimization rates in seven studies from 2004-2010.
Teens who have been a victim of cyberbullying report depression, frustration, and anger. This trend is hardly surprising, considering lack of confidence and low self esteem coincide with cyberbullying (Hinduja 1). These effects can take a damaging toll on a teenager psychologically. Many times, these symptoms correlate with troubles at home and delinquent behavior (4). In extreme cases, some teens can be affected by suicidal thoughts or tendencies, and/or a negative perception of school, which can lead to school violence (Balog 386; Hinduja 1). Cyberbullying can sometimes be easier than regular bullying because, in most cases, an aggressor will find it more convenient to bully a person when he or she can hide behind a screen.
The problems caused by social networking sites are not purely psychological. Through the loss of privacy, social networking sites open teens to the possibility of real-world danger (Balog 386). By design, sites like Facebook and Twitter make a public profile exactly that—public. It is easy to relinquish just the wrong piece of information to the wrong person on social networking sites (Huffman 155). Different privacy restrictions enable teens to choose who can see their personal information. This makes sites like Twitter and Facebook seem much safer, in reality is that many people on social networking sites choose not to take advantage of these secure options (Chapin 12). Restricting information on a social networking site is an effective, but not perfect way to protect information; all teens should practice this to protect themselves as much as possible.
Social networking does not only open one to the possibility of loss of privacy, it can attract teens to stealing other’s privacy. Information is very open on social networking sites, many teens are sometimes tempted to look in on other people’s lives at will. Because the person that is being “spied” on is not notified, it is very simple to pull up a page and look at everything that someone has done. The lack of privacy can lead to relationships damaged by jealousy, and could even progress as far as real world stalking (Nitzburg 1184). This panoptic sense surrounding social media not only gives users the ability to look in on family members, but use social media to watch significant others and to keep updated with ex-boyfriends or girlfriends (1183). This ability to “stalk” people on the Internet makes “stalkers” paranoid about what others are doing, and keeps someone from moving past events that may have been emotionally harmful, such as break-ups. On the other side of this Facebook or Twitter “stalking,” there is the victim, the one giving out the information. When on a site like Facebook, many teens feel as though they are in a safe environment, which causes them to release information much more quickly than they would in person (1184). Giving out information like this puts teens at risk.
Teens on social media put themselves at risk of loss of self-identity, a possibility of being cyberbullied, and a loss of privacy. They also are at risk of losing skills that have been natural to humans for hundreds of years. Face-to-face communication has been a human necessity for a long time. With social networking and other technological communication devices, direct conversations between teens can be rare (Stout 1).
In an article from a collection called “A Teen Speaks” on SocialTimes, a website that allows people to submit their opinions in the form of an article, a teen named Amy Summers gives her opinion on social media and its impact on teenagers:
Not only is it irritating that many teens cannot go for longer than ten minutes without checking their Facebook pages before having withdrawal symptoms, but it is even more frustrating when they can’t even go half as long as this without mentioning the site. What is this saying about our generation? With our whole social lives revolving online, some people seem to think that there is no longer a need for exceptional social skills away from the World Wide Web. (Summers 1)
The fact that teens themselves speak out against the addiction to social media shows the severity of the dilemma. Throughout her article, Amy Summers points out that teens’ connection to social media affects their daily communication and social skills (Summers 1). Summers claims that having this attachment to social media can not only cause damaged social skills but it can also cause loss of respect at school or with potential employers. If teens don’t know how to communicate with others, it will be very difficult for them to move past their teenage years in the adult world.
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2010, half of American teenagers send 50 text messages per day. Minimum. Among those teens, two-thirds replied that they would be more likely to text their friends than call, and only one half said that they actually converse with their friends on a daily basis (Stout 1). This data shows how disconnected teens are from what once were everyday experiences in life. Furthermore, in a study conducted by the National Institute for Research and Development in Informatics to measure the negative effects of social networking websites, researchers found that behavior and concentration of the subjects with many hours of activity on social media was negatively affected (Balog 386). Teens have very little experience with face-to-face interaction (Gowen 246). They can forget––or possibly never learn––important skills such as empathy, the ability to read body language, and they will push themselves further into the abyss that is social media (Stout 2).
One of the biggest effects of social networking on teens is social anxiety. Social anxiety is a term that encompasses almost everything that deals with being nervous around people; situations range from public speaking, to just being nervous around crowds. Two of the symptoms of social anxiety are self-consciousness and discomfort in almost all social situations. Third only to depression and alcoholism, social anxiety affects millions of Americans (Richards 1). Disorders that are this widespread are obviously not limited just to social networking users, or teens for that matter. Internet communication may not cause social anxiety but it does coincide with many symptoms of social networking users and can pull those who suffer from the disorder closer into it. People that have social anxiety tend to be awkward or removed in public situations, and social networking gives those who suffer a way to communicate without having to think about body language or stuttering. It can give them a chance to think over their words (Stout 2). This can be very appealing to someone with social anxiety and this shortcut often draws people who suffer closer (Nitzburg 1186). This shortcut would seem to be a benefit for people with social anxiety, but it immediately handicaps them. It is likely that a victim of social anxiety will take an opportunity to avoid face-to-face interaction; this can lead to very little real world communication experience, thus denying teens (with or without social anxiety) the experiences necessary to learn to cope with stress in a conversation.
Negative effects are always a danger when teens use social networking sites. However, if used properly, responsibly, and safely, sites like Facebook can be a great way for teens to facilitate busy lives, to stay connected to friends, and maintain those friendships––such as long distance friendships––that may have failed without the connection that social media provides (Stout 3; Nitzburg 1183; Gowen 246). Many of the effects that are possible with social media use can be easily avoided if social media is used responsibly, and with time limits.
Social media is a great way for teens to connect with friends and to plan social events, but when used irresponsibly or carelessly, it can open teens to a world of negative effects. Sites like Facebook and Twitter can drop cyberbullying and privacy loss on teenagers. The psychological effects that it shows are drastic as well. Teens generally find it difficult to manage their time on social media and and they become enthralled in these sites (Balog 378). If it were easier to control this addiction, the negative effects of social networking might not be as prevalent, but while the gravitational pull of social media still affects teens so severely, the effects will still be embodied in today’s adolescents.
If teens learn to be social without an addiction to Facebook, maybe the defining question of today’s generation of teens wouldn’t be “Do you have a Facebook?” Learning to put down the phone or shutting down the laptop is a crucial skill for today’s adolescents to learn. With that skill comes not only better communication, but an increased awareness of safety and increased opportunity for teens to discover themselves without the distraction of the Internet.