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Brown: The pitfalls of social media

BY MARCUS BROWN | AUGUST 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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The use of social media has shaped the way people communicate and interact across a variety of media. Texting, snapchatting, tweeting, facetiming, and the like have created an entirely new culture of communication and social interaction with a potential to evolve even further.

From the faux-food critics on Instagram to the distant relatives who track like bloodhounds on Facebook, social media has become an inescapable part of everyday life. It seems unlikely to think that anything so prevalent and culturally accepted could be potentially harmful to our well-being.

But there was a time when cigarettes were thought to be healthy and microwaves gave people cancer. With time, it is easy to disprove popular myths and preconceptions, but meanwhile, a critical eye and willingness to accept new findings both positive and negative become necessary.

Recent studies and research show almost contradictory findings when it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of social-media use. What interests me the most is the research geared toward evaluating the effects on the mental health of children, adolescents, and young adults.

A clinical report in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found 22 percent of teenagers log on their favorite social-media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social-media site more than once a day. This age group represents an interesting demographic to focus on for mental-health experts because not only is it the biggest market for social media but also the age group to show the most radical effects because of the developing nature of the brain at that time.

On the one hand, use of social media is almost encouraged as a tool to foster communication and interpersonal skills. It can be used to meet new people with common interests and build self-esteem.

On the other hand, almost the exact opposite has said to be true: that today’s youth suffer from a lack of social skills when they’re offline.

Furthermore, psychological disorders found in youth such as depression and anxiety have been linked to the use of social media. It doesn’t make sense to me that technology designed to bridge gaps in communication and connections could be found to incite traits such as mania and antisocial behavior, but that’s what the research shows.

Perhaps it is too simple to try to look at the potential advantages and disadvantages of social media from a cause-and-effect standpoint. I’d have a hard time believing that checking Facebook a few times too many could give you clinical depression on its own. Social media may very well be a catalyst that only speeds up the pre-existing conditions. Like all tools, social media has the potential to be used for good or evil, but to what extent needs to be examined more thoroughly.

It isn’t enough to say the social media is not solely to blame for anything because it was simply used wrongly. This shift in a generation’s social and interpersonal upbringing brings with it a variety of unanswered questions.

Because of the widespread use of technology and the myriad of social-media avenues, modern youth do the majority of growing up through social media. Cyber bullying, sexting, and the like have taken the place of traditional rites of passage. With nearly an entire generation growing up with a brand-new social context, more coherent research needs to be done to find out just what we’re dealing with.

I don’t know if tweeting is the best thing since sliced bread or the biggest threat to my generation’s mental health, and the idea that only time will tell doesn’t make me feel any better.


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