The Usage of Social Media An Inside Look at How Local Teens Perceive the Media

A story looking deeper into the effects of social media from the generation labeled Gen Z.

A Deforest Area High School student looking through social media 11:33pm.

A Deforest Area High School student looking through social media 11:33pm.

When teens think of the word social media they often think of people who highly influence their perspectives of themselves. When scrolling through Instagram you’re constantly comparing your lifestyle to the unrealistic standards of the people you follow; however, chances are the photos posted are edited.

The youngest generation, titled Gen Z, is classified as the most infatuated generation by social media, spending countless hours staring at their devices whether for school, work or personal enjoyment. Although how does this impact teens growing up using social media?

In a survey conducted using teens input, 50% of social media users spend three to four hours on social media a day, 34% spending four or more hours. This doesn’t include the other hours teens spend on their devices.

A specific age to use social media apps has not been determined. Currently the recommended age for Instagram stands at 13 claiming for mature content, data collection and access to strangers. However, several health officials have made statements claiming it’s difficult to give a precise age as kids need to develop a social and emotional skill to cope with the demands.

According to Aacap.org, Social media has become a part of 90% of teens ranging from the ages 13 to 17, everyday lives. This comes as no surprise that teens are drawn to social media at a young age from all the glamor and popularity expressed but this has people asking why exactly?

In the survey for teens, asking why do you believe teens are drawn to social media, a lot of the answers range from being able to express yourself to a source of entertainment. There are however a few answers where anonymous teens dig deeper.

One anonymous teen stated, “It is a kind of cross between reality and a digital world, it can work as an escape for some, for others it allows a way to socialize without actually being there which makes anxiety not as much as a reality. You can say practically whatever you want on the internet without facing consequences, so that idea is appealing to some.”

Another anonymous teen stated, “Because it’s really addictive. Social Media targets young users by using recent searches or things you’ve looked at in the past to fit your feed to your interests which can lead you to falling down a rabbit hole.”

To further explain, social media targets users’ decisions made online to shape their feed to their liking. In fact online marketing has started to profit off of this because sites strictly focus on sharing companies top products that influencers use because chances are their followers will want their idols favorite product to boast about.

In the survey for teens, asking to show on a scale of 1 to 5 how they feel social media affects their mental health, the highest percentage was 41% in the middle at 3. 

Cassidy Kern and Dominic Jaccard, sophomores at Deforest Area High School, share as users of social media, do they feel the environment is negative?

Cassidy answers with, “I do agree with that. I go on social media and I see all the girls around me and they’re so pretty and I’m jealous. Why can’t I look like that? For girls, social media is more negative because we often compare ourselves.” 

Cassidy spoke about how social media is for teenage girls who compare themselves to the influencers they see online and Dominic seemed to agree with the negativity but took a different approach.

Dominic states, “I feel like sometimes social media can be negative because, a lot of times, social media is very impersonal. When people are hidden behind a profile picture, they feel like they can say anything they want.”

Dr. Renee Engein, on Psychology Today, states in her article “Perfectionism Makes Social Media Use More Toxic for Girls,” that, “when the researchers asked the girls in the study about the context in which their social comparisons occurred, more than 80 percent were with someone seen on social media. Analyses revealed that appearance-focused comparisons predicted more depression symptoms and lower body appreciation.

Some of the top Instagram influencers with over millions of followers consist of, The Kardashian and Jenner sisters, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande and Beyonce. The women listed are all famous celebrities that lots of teenage girls idolize and often admire for their looks or talents. 

In September 2021 documents were released and shared to Capitol Hill by a whistleblower named Frances Haugen, a data scientist who worked for Facebook. Inside the documents were internal studies Facebook researched one United Kingdom study leaked that 13.5% of teen girls say their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after starting on Instagram.

Another leaked study found that 17% of teen girls say their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram.

Further information from Haugen was shared to The Wall Street Journal stating, “Teen boys aren’t immune. In the deep dive Facebook’s researchers conducted into mental health in 2019, they found that 14% of boys in the U.S. said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves. In their report on body image in 2020, Facebook’s researchers found that 40% of teen boys experience negative social comparison.”

Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, made a comment stating, “It’s disheartening to see that work taken out of context and used to construct a false narrative that we don’t care.”

No matter how negative social media can be, teens continue to look past these struggles arguing that it provides a sense of comfort.

In the survey conducted using teens input, 80% of teens agreed that social media provides a sense of comfort. 

Being on social media as a teen can keep teens up to date on trends and knowing the latest news about their favorite celebrities but it can also have a negative impact on their mental health, although it seems the positives outweigh the negatives for many teens.

The fear of missing out is often a reason teens like to stick around on social media having said that in the larger picture teens might not realize social media could be doing more harm than good.