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What are the Negative Effects of Social Media on Children, Teens, and Adults?

Blog / Feb 1, 2021

What are the Negative Effects of Social Media on Children, Teens, and Adults?

Barbara Haas
Strategy Director

Those of us “terminally online” need to live with hyper-awareness in many ways.

When you work online – whether in journalism, media, podcasting, digital marketing, or social media – you rarely log off completely.

Outside of work, we foster online communities with friends, scroll for ideas, and create more content for fun in our free time.

For most of you reading this, social media is a true double-edged sword: It drives your livelihood but can also screw up your mental health. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to understand the negative effects of social media.

None of us are immune.

Here’s what you need to know and a few things you can do about it.

How Does Social Media Affect Mental Health?

No matter your age or where you hang out online, the negative effects of social media are real – and they can often creep on unnoticed.

Negative Effects of Social Media on Children

On one hand, social media can help kids learn valuable communication skills and form connections with friends they’d never have otherwise.

Especially with in-person interactions and classes limited with COVID-19 restrictions, online gaming platforms like Animal Crossing, Twitch, Skype, and even Facebook can help kids find others who share their interests.

The biggest problem comes from regulation.

Kids need a top-down structure to help them put negative or dangerous online interactions into perspective and unplug.

Cliques, bullying, and sexual content are all major risks as well. Negative interactions and peer pressure can form their worldview, making it near impossible to see things objectively.

Kids, in general, often feel more anxiety. Girls, meanwhile, might struggle to be comfortable in their authentic selves.

Children also don’t understand the delicate dance of privacy online either. They might be too distrusting and overshare with people in places they shouldn’t.

Negative Effects of Social Media on Teenagers

Teenagers face most of the same negative effects of social media as children do.

Teens, however, have greater access to devices and freedoms. In Canada, a whopping 85% of teens have smartphones by grade 11.

It’s easy for teens to get caught up in negative or dangerous rhetoric online. For one thing, it spills over into their real-life interactions at school and between friends.

Also, teens tend to see the current moment as long-term reality rather than fleeting. That’s why bullying or exploitative online interactions can hit teens harder than adults.

On that note, the word bullying feels too innocent – it can often lead to suicide and self-harm. It’s really more like terrorism or harassment.

Negative Effects of Social Media on Adults

Nope, us adults don’t get off scot-free. Adults have a huge problem on social media: They dig themselves into echo chambers.

This can look like a few different things:

  • Following niche Twitter accounts with bad spicy political takes you hate. You end up assuming people with these opinions are much more common than they really are.
  • Following travel, fitness, or hobbyist Instagram accounts for inspiration. You end up just feeling worthless and like you’ll never accomplish as much as the accounts you follow.
  • Starting arguments over all kinds of things. People block you and you block them. Soon you’re totally alone online.

General burnout is another big one.

Adults who consume lots of social media might find themselves impulsive and unable to drive joy from everyday life because nothing’s as strange and funny as certain corners of the internet.

What About the Negative Effects of Social Media on Society?

Across all age groups, the negative effects of social media on society include widespread mental health issues.

For starters, people with ADHD might see worsening symptoms – especially if they work remotely and must self-motivate.

Doctors believe the brains of people with ADHD don’t produce enough dopamine. Well, social media apps are literally designed to deliver mini dopamine rushes.

See where this is going? It wouldn’t be far off to assume that children and adults with attention issues are predisposed to social media addiction problems.

Untreated mental health issues can cause people to lose jobs, self-medicate with substances, and wreak havoc across their life.

Improper use of social media can also lead to new or worsening depression and loneliness.

We can’t forget anxiety either. Spending our lives terminally online has its consequences on real-life social interactions too. Research finds that the negative effects of social media on mental health can include increased social anxiety – especially among young women.

Sorry, but it doesn’t end there.

Social media can also trigger compulsivity problems and obsessive beliefs. Facebook’s intrusive nature appears to be the biggest culprit.

Combating the Negative Impact of Social Media on Individuals and Society (6 Tips)

Working online means we’re constantly bombarded with social media content – whether we want it or not! Fortunately, you can take a few steps to protect your mental health.

1. Focus on Realism – Not Perfection

Hyper-positivity and telling people they can manifest anything they want is dangerous, yet you find these attitudes everywhere online – especially from chic influencers with less-than-transparent finances.

All of us, brands included, have a responsibility to promote realism online and follow accounts that do the same.

2. Schedule Time to Detox

Those of us who work online absolutely must spend time detoxing from all types of technology. Ideally, get outside and either leave your phone at home or on airplane mode. Phones are still useful for capturing photos and emergencies.

Try to avoid the vortex of the endless scroll on your days off. Make a plan and stick with it.

3. Prioritise Human Interactions

If in-person connection isn’t possible, it’s still important to prioritise human interactions online. When you work long hours on the internet, it’s still tough keeping up with friends and family. Use tools to your advantage here like Slack, Discord, Telegram, and chat groups.

4. Keep Separate Accounts If Needed

If you work in social media, you can trim back some of the negative effects of social media by keeping dedicated accounts just for work. You might use these accounts to interact with a handful of work-related people, publish content for large follower counts, or manage business pages.

Regardless, you have better control over the experience, and you can create personal pages for other interests.

5. Ask Yourself Why

Social media is naturally impulsive, so I realise this is easier said than done. However, it’s still useful to take a step back and ask yourself why you feel anxious, depressed, or drained after using social media.

Research shows people who use social media passively (lurking and scrolling) report higher levels of negative emotions and depression – but that’s not always the case!

Consider your unique situation and what’s behind your emotional reactions.

6. Set Rules and Stick to Them

It’s not all about wasting time. Some smart rules might include:

  • Not commenting when you know it will spark an argument.
  • Limiting yourself to two responses in debates.
  • Unfollowing accounts that make you feel depressed or angry.
  • Only posting once a day.
  • Think about how your hot takes and posts will make others feel in best and worst scenarios.

Don’t beat yourself up when you impulsively break a rule. Just try your best.

Are There Any Positive Effects of Social Media?

Of course! We wouldn’t use Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit if we didn’t get something positive out of it. Enjoying positive effects from social media really depends on how you use it.

It Helps You Feel Less Alone

Facebook groups and niche subreddits can help us find people who share our unique experiences, offer advice, and just make us feel less isolated.

Social Media Can Encourage Empathy

With an open mind, social media can help us understand different experiences of people unlike us from all walks of life.

You Can Stay Updated on Happenings Anywhere

Twitter is especially handy for following accounts in conflict zones and other countries to see a wide range of perspectives on current events and entertainment.

Social Media Helps You Meet New People Around the World

I know plenty of people who have travelled the world meeting people they’ve met on platforms like Facebook (in public places, of course).

It Can Inspire You to Act on Multiple Levels

The right mindfulness can transform FOMO into action. Instead of following unattainable Instagrammers, the right accounts and mindset can make you think, “Hey, I can do that too.” Then you go out and you do it!

So, Is Social Media Good or Bad?

To put it simply, yes. It’s both.

When used mindfully, assertively, and actively, social media can help you form deeper connections with people you’d normally never meet otherwise. You can feel less lonely by surrounding yourself with others who share your experience and learn new things.

But social media also has a dark side.

Passively scrolling, hate-following accounts, and digging yourself into a FOMO echo chamber can make you feel alone, worthless, and trigger serious mental health issues.

It’s all about mindfulness.

For those of us terminally online, we can’t avoid social media entirely. We just have to remind ourselves that we’re in control of the experience. Social media is really what we make it.

Brands especially must be mindful of the message they promote and how people could interpret it.