We are constantly digitally connected. We check our phones when we wake up, and we browse social media that little too long before we fall asleep. The average age a child has their first mobile phone is 10, and youngsters now use their families’ devices long before that. 50% of young people are heavy social media users, but digital gluttony is far beyond that. We now use it for shopping, banking, relationships, work, and hobbies. Without it, we would simply be lost.
The digital era has brought us benefits aplenty. It’s produced services, products, games, networking, life hacks, and has arguably both improved and streamlined our lives. Social media has been at the forefront of this over the past decade. It brings us connectivity, not just to family and friends but idols and people all over the world. It allows people to express themselves, explore their identity and interests, and interact with those who share the same interests as us. It brings empathy, builds communities, can provide emotional support, and even allows us to participate in movements. Unfortunately, the pitfalls are catching up.
Despite its benefits, we know social media can be harmful to young people and their health. Several studies have found a link between social media use and worsened mental health, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and increased suicide risk. Half of girls and two-fifths of boys have been the victims of online bullying, and 41% of Gen Z users say social media makes them sad, anxious, or depressed, with Instagram and Snapchat judged to be the most destructive. Of all the main social media websites, only YouTube was judged to have an overall positive effect.
One reason is that we all fall into the trap of comparisons, wondering why our lives aren’t as great as the people we follow. It’s easy to forget that social media is a highlight reel, a place we post our best pictures, our funniest jokes, our favourite memories. You may see someone’s holiday to Corfu and the party they attended last Friday, but you won’t see that bout of food poisoning or a pimple they just couldn’t cover yesterday. People present their perfect life, whilst hiding their real struggles. Envy has become heightened in the digital age.