Social media and its effects on teenagers
Throughout my childhood, I have been warned by adults that social media and the internet are dangerous and depraved, consisting mostly of people lying about how good their lives are to make everyone else jealous and insecure. The only things I heard about online spaces were gross oversimplifications of how awful they can be.
After being a part of many different online communities throughout the past six years, I can confidently say that there are many useful parts of social media that are often overlooked or left out.
People of all ages require a healthy amount of socializing and human interaction. For many teenagers like me who live in small towns, that is simply not possible without social media. The majority of my very close friends who have grown up with me throughout the past few years were random people I met online, who just happened to stick around. We shared an interest in things like making art and playing video games, which led to us doing these things together often. Without them, I would not have had many other people there for me during very difficult times, such as when I was moving around to different schools and having trouble talking to new people. We have kept in contact on Snapchat, Discord, Instagram and TikTok.
Another big issue that adults often bring up about social media is how easy it is to spread misinformation and biased propaganda. This is certainly a huge problem that affects internet users of all ages, and it is becoming even more prevalent as time goes on. However, it is possible to educate yourself by getting information from different sources on a given topic or current event and then to use that information to come to your own well informed conclusions. Something that has helped me gain better media literacy is listening to a variety of online content creators on different platforms such as TikTok and YouTube, and comparing their opinions with my own to form my own conclusions. Sometimes I will hear about a particular person or channel that is believed to not be credible or truthful, and if that is the case, I make sure to take what they say with a grain of salt. In general, you cannot have good media literacy if you do not engage with and listen to multiple sources that all have their own stance on something. It is also important to know that any given topic is rarely black and white.
In general, children around ages 11 or younger should not be left alone with unsupervised social media access because they are at the highest risk of experiencing cyberbullying or being exposed to age inappropriate content. For teenagers, social media can be the perfect outlet for self-expression and a place to find community with other like-minded people. It is a way to learn more about current world events and be exposed to other people who have different cultures, beliefs and lifestyles. This can lead to people being more open minded and accepting of things they may not fully understand.
One of the most controversial social media platforms right now is TikTok. The app allows anybody to easily upload short-form video content, and when using the app, you simply have to swipe up to see a brand-new video. You can scroll for as long as you want, no ad breaks or interruptions. Many teenagers (including myself) easily fall into the trap of using TikTok as a way to forget about whatever upsetting things they are currently going through or to escape boredom, because the app is so overstimulating and distracting. There have also been claims of TikTok selling user data. The full truth behind these accusations is still unclear. However, many other widely used apps and web browsers such as Google and Facebook have also been shown to take personal information from their users. Despite the concerning information previously mentioned about TikTok, when used responsibly, it can be a wonderful place to find a sense of belonging. For many young people, being exposed to LGBTQ-plus content creators has helped them discover who they are, and having the voices of older and more experienced people telling you that you are valid and supported is very reassuring.
Social media comes with numerous problems that can negatively affect people of all ages in different ways, but it also brings people together to contribute to the collaborative creation of friendships, teamwork, community and entertainment worldwide. People should be informed of the possible dangers of having an online presence, but it provides many possibilities and is a safe space for many people.
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Milo Beaulieu is a 10th-grade student at St. Regis Falls Central School.