How teens are influenced by comparison on social media

The prevalence of social media puts a different kind of strain on the mind.

Constantly at the fingertips of every smartphone user on the planet, it creates constant connection with friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances. The SnapMaps feature on Snapchat shows users where all of their friends are with a simple pinch of the screen. A location tag on Instagram shows the exact location where a photo was taken. While both of these features can be disabled, many continue to put themselves on the map. Followers know each others’ Starbucks order, their most-recent breakfast order, and the time they went to the gym.

A lot of people feel the pressure to keep their followers updated, as well as a constant and persistent sense of comparison with those they follow. This comparison has proven to be most-prevalent in terms of body image. The University of Pittsburgh conducted a study involving this correlation, specifically with teenagers.

The study showed that teens who spent more time on social media had over twice the risk of reporting eating disorders and body image concerns than those who spent less time on social media. The participants who were shown to spend the most time scrolling through social media pages had almost three times as much potential to report these same issues.

Along with the higher risk for reporting concerns, a greater risk exists for depression and sleep complications. The facade that can be presented on social media creates a false reality that makes reality seem less desirable.

It’s a struggle that can feel overwhelming for even the healthiest of people.

Whether it presents as oversharing, highly-edited photos, stunning vacations, or filtered view – online personas can be shaped at the user’s discretion. There was a time when social media was about ‘networking’. Today, it has become less about networking, and more about creating an ‘alter ego’. The ability to ‘theme’ Instagram pages, or edit photos to fit that clouds the purpose of sharing. It blurs the line between reality and virtual-reality to a point where authenticity is lost.

Instant connection between people all over the globe is fascinating, but the impact of constant use can be detrimental.

Dylann Hogan, a lacrosse player entering her third year at Nazareth college, has her own perspective about the toll that social media takes on ones mind.

“I think people mistakenly conform to social media trends. Everyone on social media posts how happy their life is, but you never know the backstory. Although none of us like to be unhappy, social media can trigger it. As a girl, I experienced some obstacles with body image through high school due to social media and what we see as the ‘ideal body’. It can give us blurred perceptions of what life should be. The effects of social media can be destructive, and they can do damage on a serious level. People act differently behind a screen, usually braver than they would in person, which allows bullying to occur. This can make it hard for people to accept themselves for who they are when others are telling them that they should be different,” Hogan explained.

Jamie Martin, a graduate student set to finish her studies in May 2019, echoed many of Dylann’s sentiments. Martin added, “I think social media can get in people’s heads. I feel like it can give false perceptions about how someone should live their life and people don’t always act like themselves on social media—making them be someone they aren’t.”

Social media platforms were initially created to keep people connected. They have grown well beyond that, and created an avenue for people of all ages to present a life that may not exist as advertised on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. As quickly as social media has grown in prevalence, it means added attention must be paid to the impact it has on mental health, the human condition, and life.

Ontario County has many resources to combat the potential mental health concerns created by social media.  These resources are accessible and open to the public for those that need them.

Finger Lakes Health
Tompkins County Center
Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare
Ontario County Mental Health Center
CNY Mental Health Support Groups
Ontario County Support Groups
Ithaca- Tompkins County Support Groups

FL1 Reporter Addilys Geitner is an intern from Nazareth College in Rochester. The junior has roots in Bloomfield, but is reporting on stories throughout the Western Finger Lakes. Follow Addilys on Twitter @AddilysGeitner, or email [email protected]


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