Project #2: Research Paper
Teenage years are unarguably the most awkward period of one’s life. Thinking back to high school memories almost always results in shudders down the spine, however that is a normal transitional period all humans must all go through in order to reach adulthood. When envisioning a typical group of high school students, the 1985 film “The Breakfast Club” often comes to mind. Every school has the jock, the nerd, the prom queen, the rule breaker and the angsty kid who wears all black. High school is an emotionally difficult time for all those involved. It has always been this way, and there is a certain rite of passage that comes with the difficulty of growing up. Hormones are raging, clear skin is a thing of the past, and heartbreak in the near future is inevitable. However, studies have shown that depression and anxiety rates among teens have skyrocketed since 2013. A report by health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield stated that diagnoses of major depression, “have gone up 47 percent since 2013 among millennials (ages 18-34)”. In addition, the study also finds that, “the rate for adolescents (ages 12-17) has risen 63 percent since 2013- 47 percent for boys and 65 percent for girls”. What has changed so dramatically for this generation that wasn’t present in the past?
The mass introduction of technology in the mid-200’s changed practically every sense of how the world is operated. Human beings started to be glued to first a computer screen, and next a screen permanently in their hands. With the iPhone’s first release in 2007, society changed rapidly by becoming tech-obsessed and incorporating the smartphone into every aspect of their life. In 2010, photo-sharing app Instagram made its debut, reinventing the way humans communicate socially. Young generations were especially affected by this wave of social media and became rapidly obsessed in a way that hadn’t previously been seen. In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, data was uncovered showing, “95% of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one”, and, “45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis”. This continuous exposure to technology is most certainly affecting mental health rates among individuals highly invested in spending their life on a screen.
With the societal introduction of photo-sharing apps such as Instagram, came the novel need of featuring one’s life as a curated masterpiece. Suddenly, accounts known as “influencers” started emerging, as did video bloggers on media platforms such as YouTube. With the growing popularity of picture-perfect “feeds”, individuals started to compare themselves to others in ways that would not have been previously imagined. In a recent publication by Healthline, a relatively new social concept known as FOMO was discovered to be, “another mental health effect that’s been strongly linked with the use of social media”. “FOMO” is an acronym that stands for “fear of missing out”, and represents a new anxiety of being excluded from social situations. This created a paranoia that many millennials latched onto, one including stressful thoughts and an obsession to refresh the news feed. Gigen Mammoser of Healthline explains, “technology has created a world in which we can gaze into our own crystal ball to see what our friends are doing at any time of day. And that’s not necessarily a good thing”. Never before were people able to track their friend’s entire social calendar, keeping track of when they weren’t invited. This alone changes the dynamic in which modern relationships operate.
Sharing the stage with highly popular photography apps such as Instagram are video platforms like media giant YouTube. YouTube culture is a beast of its own consisting of many self-made bloggers, singers, and product reviewers. Megan Farokmanesh of The Verge notes, “According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of teenagers agers 13-17 say they use the platform (YouTube). Closely behind are Instagram at 72 percent and Snapchat at 69 percent”. The craze for creative content has created many new channels of business across all of these platforms, and gave birth to the career of the influencer. Social media influencers are people that are up to date on current trends, review products, and create content revolving around a certain category such as beauty products, fashion, or electronics. Viewers rejoice over “haul” videos, which feature the influencers sharing a substantial amount of new product they have purchased or been gifted by a company. The life of an influencer may appear to be glamourous and frivolous, but in reality, a draining amount of work goes into creating a viral appearance and advertising new products all the time.
Young teenage girls are especially likely to consume influencer videos, as they naively try to find their place in the world and learn to come to terms with their ever-changing appearance. At 16 years old, Lucia Tepper became obsessed with makeup influencers and decided she would do whatever it took to become one herself. What Lucia didn’t know was that many of these beauty gurus have behind the scenes partnerships with cosmetic labels, allowing them to receive a large majority of the products they review for free. These influencers also did not live as average of a life as was perceived, in fact, many of them came from very wealthy families allowing the funding of their internet labels. Regardless, girls around the country dreamed of becoming the next big YouTube star, at whatever cost. Tepper admits, “If I wanted something, I would stay up at night thinking about it. I would lust after it but as soon as I would get it, it wasn’t special anymore… I just wanted something else”. The consumer culture makes it the social norm to ditch material products soon after acquiring them to move on to the next newest item. This is a substantial component of a beauty influencer’s business model, but this behavior does not align very well with an environmentally-sustainable lifestyle. Lucia Tepper stated that the guilt from living such a materialistic lifestyle gave her nightly knots in her stomach. Lucia suffered from anxiety and panic attacks as a younger teenager, but she stresses that the symptoms caused by social media pressure outweighed all of her past ailments. What’s worse is that Tepper is hardly alone in the number of teens within the YouTube influencer community that had revealed experiencing negative mental symptoms.
The unending release of cutting edge technology fuels society to promote always having the newest and most sophisticated product on market. This has extreme detrimental effects on a society’s moral. Psychology professor and member of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Tim Kasser, explains, “when people prioritize materialistic values, the less happy they are, the more anxious they are, the lower their life satisfaction, the more likely they are to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. While it’s not a gigantic effect, it is consistent, and it’s consistently negative”. Competition and jealousy have historically brought out the worst in humanity, yet today’s society continues to dive deeper and deeper into the behavior that promote these feelings the most.
Although YouTube is well-known for its influencers and celebrities, at the end of the day, it is still a platform that is open to all individuals brave enough to turn the camera towards themselves and hit record. One trend that swept across high schools countrywide was that of the “Am I Pretty or Ugly?” video. In these videos, a young girl typically in her early teens would sit earnestly in front of her computer screen and explain how she is conflicted on her thoughts of her own personal appearance. Usually an emotional story of bullying and shame is included, followed by a plea for honest opinions on where they actually stand on the “hot or not” scale. Studies show that girls begin to lose body confidence before they even reach age 10, with 20-40% starting dieting at this same age.
Douglas Quenqua of the New York Times sheds light on the story of Sammie, a 13-year old girl who uploaded a video of herself on YouTube begging for the truth on if she was attractive or not. Sammie received countless insults, and became even more depressed as a result. Sammie commented, “I don’t like to look at the video anymore. It makes me upset. There are people telling me to kill myself, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to know that there are people like that out there”. Hardly any girls that take part in this video challenge receive kind comments, only hatred that is sure to hurt their fragile egos. Quenqua concludes Sammie’s story by expanding, “as long as there have been 13-year-old girls, parents and friends have had to field the question, ‘Do you think I’m pretty?’ But as a generation raised on YouTube and iPhones enters middle school, these questions are increasingly being posed to, well, anyone on the Internet”. It is hard to imagine how any young girl living in today’s society of judgement and critique could escape even minor feelings of depression and low self-worth.
Sometimes it feels as if social media has taken more away from society than it has given. Everywhere one looks, people have their noses buried within their screens, so involved in their virtual world they barely appear in the physical one. Humanity is shifting more and more to online means, with even the intimate act of dating being taken over by social media platforms. Instead of trying to meet romantic partners in real life, more and more millennials are turning to applications such as Tinder to find their soulmate, or something similar. Statistics released from Tinder show 1.6 billion daily swipes from users, resulting in approximately 1.5 million dates each week. However, with the shift to online dating comes the opportunity of a whole new form of rejection. These platforms make it all too easy, and practically the norm, to move on between matches quickly with superficial surface level interactions. According to a 2011 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “being turned down stimulates the same part of the brain the processes physical pain”. Apps such as Tinder make such light of rejection, and it can come as quickly as the match itself. How can one expect society to be free of depression and anxiety when the experience of meeting others has now turned into such a risky proposition?
So how would individuals change if social media was once again better balanced with real life? A study conducted by the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology wanted to find out just that. Lasting three weeks, 143 students from the University of Pennsylvania were limited to just 30 minutes of social media usage per day. Contributor Jordyn Young revealed, “What we found overall is that if you use less social media, you are actually less depressed and less lonely, meaning that the decreased social media use is what causes that qualitative shift in your well-being. No matter where they started off, if they were told to limit their social media, they had less depression, no matter what their initial levels were”. Today’s teens are in desperate need of a dose of reality far away from their screens of picture-perfect content.
Humanity relies on the connection formed between individuals to thrive and survive. While social media and the rise of technology have granted so much innovation to the world within the past ten and more years, it has been shown that it has also drained society in other ways. Social media is certainly only going to continue to advance in the years to come, therefore it is crucial that individuals start to find a balance between their tech obsession and their mental health. Balance is key, and potentially life-saving in certain dire situations. Teens, more than any others, need to regain a sense of control over their social communities and put more emphasis on the importance of a healthy mind. Who knows, a happy brain might just become the next hot trend.
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