Having social media too early harms youths’ mental health

Social media: You have it, your siblings have it, your mom has it. At this point, your dog probably has its own Instagram. However, despite it’s massive popularity, social media can cause great harm to youth. Therefore young people’s use of social media should be limited. 

Apps like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, and YouTube are wildly popular with teens. According to a 2022 Pew Research Center study, 95 percent of teens have used YouTube, 67 percent have used Tiktok, and 62 percent have used Instagram.

However, several researchers are now saying that social media is unhealthy for teens. Dr. Bryn Austin, the Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, said that, “image-based platforms like Instagram—have very harmful effects on teen mental health, especially for teens struggling with body image, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.” Even the owners of Instagram know this. A slide from an internal presentation in 2019 stated, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” 

People on social media post their best moments: their best angles, their best expressions, their best experiences. Social media creates an unrealistic picture of a person’s life, which can foster unhealthy comparison and decrease  self-esteem. This is especially harmful for young people who are still figuring out who they are and what their life should look like. 

Additionally, social media breeds cyberbullying. Social media platforms create an open space for cyberbullies. Creating private accounts, or “burners” (accounts for which the user remains anonymous) and then commenting, messaging, or posting hateful remarks is very easy. Cyberbullying has been proved to lead to depression, anxiety, and even worse, suicide. A Pew Research Center study found that 59 percent of teens using social media have been cyber-bullied, whether it be having explicit images of them shared without consent, physical threats, or offensive remarks.

The teenage brain is very susceptible to the negative impacts of social media. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls planning, prioritizing, and solid decision making, isn’t fully developed until a person’s mid-to-late 20s. This makes teens more likely to engage in risky behaviors, which can be encouraged by social media. The lack of full development in the prioritizing and planning part of the brain may also make teens more prone to procrastination of important tasks in favor of the endless scrolling on social media. 

Just at Berkeley High School alone, thousands of teens have social media and network amongst each other. There are things like BHS Snapchat groups, BHS Instagram accounts, and much more. Searching up friends, making mutuals, asking for homework help on Instagram – these things happen all the time. Would BHS even look the same without social media? But despite all the good things social media can create, the cons still outnumber the benefits. 

Social media plays a huge role in the modern world, so of course it influences younger generations. This is not always healthy. Social media can paint a false and dangerously perfect picture of what other people’s lives look like, as well as increase the risk of cyberbullying. In order to avoid harm on these platforms, youth should be cautioned to avoid or limit social media until they’ve fully matured.