The Toxic Effects Of Social Media

The rising levels of anxiety in teens has not gone unnoticed by anyone, yet the underlying cause is often denied by teens themselves who refuse to admit that they are addicted to social media. 


It’s impossible to deny that the majority of teens using social media are addicted to it and of course it’s easy to see why. With the instant gratification of posting to social media and having validation roll in, dopamine peaks and the association between the actions is strengthened quickly. 


In a recent video by YouTuber Gabbie Hanna, who also holds a degree in psychology, she explains the social media obsession with the psychological term ‘operant conditioning’.  


Operant conditioning, she explains, is the association between a voluntary behavior and its consequence. The sooner the reward follows the behavior the stronger the association between the two becomes. With social media the reward is instantaneous, and in the end you are being rewarded for being the most self centered version of yourself. 


Sinead Rynne completed her marketing dissertation in DIT on a study she performed of 11 to 14 year olds and their use of Instagram. She noted that a sense of social order was evidenced through the enforcement of social rules and ‘social currency’. Social currency included likes, followers, comments, and other interactions.  


The study was carried out mostly on girls, and it was noted that they would be ‘called out’ if they had not interacted on a post put up by one of the other girls in the friend group.  


While social media was originally meant for, and is still excused as being, a way to connect with your friends and perhaps meet new people, it seems the entire lives of generations growing up surrounded by the social media world is controlled online. Hierarchy is established, fights take place, love blossoms, and your identity is set forever.  


Irish Psychotherapist Joanna Fortune notes among her patients that “They’re presenting with clinical levels of anxiety…” and noted that this anxiety is so high it becomes “debilitating”.  


The anxiety caused by living in a real world where we are not constantly reassured by likes, comments, and attention, bleeds into the rest of our lives creating overwhelming anxiety disorders. Yet we remain addicted to social media, and insist on its necessity.  


It is not simply socially that we are bombarded online, but by the constant presence of outside (of our friend groups alone) media influence. 


 No matter how much the message is spread on the severe editing done to Instagram model photos, there will still be young people who are influenced by the ‘perfect’ image and try in vain to achieve a look which no one has, or which is impossible for them. 


The simple answer cannot just be to put down your phones and delete social media. The answer must come about through education of media influence, normalization of living a life outside of apps, and support for those who need a boost of faith.