Teenagers and young children sadly in many respects are the least well equipped to deal with the emotional and mental challenges presented by the damaging side of social media platforms. The negative effects of social media on individual, interpersonal and societal behaviours are abundant, with a cyberspace riddled with unrealistic personas, online harassment and online predators.
One of the elements that characterises online-mediated communication is the absence of the physical body. In face to face interaction the body is the subject, we are exposed to facial expression and gesticulations. Every gesture reflects the subject and is observable to those in their vicinity. On the contrary in social networks the physicality of a real body is replaced by a virtual body consisting of a number of partial images and their context. In a social network a person can organise their presentation in a strategic manner often conveying a perfect and inaccurate self-representation. Teenagers using social media are prone to compare their own identity to those displayed on media. They are only introduced to a series of selected accomplishments, often any negative aspects of an individual’s life are left behind the screen. This impression or reputation management greatly modifies the way in which members of a network receive an identity. Essentially what they are seeing is a false reality, a perfect life, and human instinct compels for comparison. As a result, being shown only the highlights of an individual’s life harshly lowers self-esteem and individual’s own perceptions of the prosperity of their life. Too often young people believe this doctored reality and look very unfavourably upon themselves as a result. Research has shown that social and appearance comparisons greatly reduce an individual’s levels of confidence in social fulfilment, as well as increasing body dissatisfaction and appearance discrepancies. These unrealistic expectations are preying on our children’s psychological health, breaking apart their sense of contentment, for their lives and their own bodies. Logically, this ability to create a perfect identity is cruel and will only result in a harsh comparison to oneself and their online persona, drastically effecting ones on perception of themselves and how others perceive them.
Social media has made communicating and finding information fast and simple, but this very convenience has also made it easy for online predators to target and prey on internet users. Sexual predators do exist and are a very real threat to vulnerable children. Many are master manipulators with skills that can cripple any child’s or adult’s sense of awareness. The availability of anonymity on social media makes it extremely easy for a predator to create a fake identity and begin grooming children. One in 33 youth receive an aggressive sexual solicitation in the past year. This means a predator has asked a young person to meet somewhere, spoke to the on the phone or sent them a gift through postal service.
Breck Bednar a 14-year-old boy was set upon by a man called Lewis Daynes claiming to be a 17-year-old computer engineer. Breck was manipulated by Daynes to visit him at his apartment in Essex to ‘take over his company’. The full extent of what happened is unknown, but Breck who still had baby teeth and was oblivious to the evil in the world was tied up and stabbed repeatedly. With sexual and sadistic motivation Dayne’s sent the image to the other member of the gaming group Daynes contacted him on. Imagine the immense suffering of losing a child to such a horrific and cruel situation. Chat rooms, instant messaging, social networking sites, and even video game consoles are crawling with online predators. Your child is not safe because of their gender, because they are too young or because they ‘know better’, any child with access to technology is a potential target, any child. The easy access to personal information on social media is leaving our children open and venerable to victimisation. We must put ourselves into the position of those suffering families and take action against the monsters the prowl the internet.
The access to social media has induced bullying to evolve into a crueller version of its offline predecessor. Social media has given bullying a new lease of life through different media platforms. Before social media victims of bullying, were given reprieve from the psychological abuse once out of a particular setting or situation however, with teenagers continuously plugged in, bullying is a constant harassment continuing around the clock. This amount of psychological pressure projected onto an individual is causing teenagers to develop severe depression and anxiety. The opportunity for cyberbullies to harass without the sacrifice of their anonymity, causes a complete lack of accountability, an appealing aspect that allows cyberbullying to flourish. Individuals whom may not partake in physical or vocal bullying, are now open to a more warped aspect of harassment, one which allows a lack of empathy and naivety to the damage they cause upon their victim. While traditional bullying can be spotted, victimisation of children can go largely unnoticed in an environment ruled by profiles of piers and lacking in observation from any authority figures. Parents are often left naive to their children’s suffering with 1 out of 10 adolescents not speaking of their victimisation. Reality is the internet is a hostile place, often individuals fail to recognise that there is a person behind every profile picture and username. The result is a vicious cycle of bullying, victims try to regain power by perpetuating this behaviour onto other individuals. Bullying is now viewed by a wider audience, and as a result many individuals unknown to the victim can join in with the repulsive behaviours. I-SAFE states that over 50% of adolescents have been bullied online and alarmingly the same percentage take part in cyberbullying. This mob mentality severely amplifies the abuse onto a victim and subsequently creates a harsh outcast mentality. It is clear that the we cannot let the alarming effects of cyberbullying to continue. Morality dictates that in order to stop the suffering of individuals social media as a whole needs to begin being monitored closely by officials, we can no longer allow the suffering of our teenagers and the violent mentality that seems to spread among users.
It is clear social media is negatively affecting our teenager’s psyche. The instinct for comparison, is harshly attacking individuals sense of contentment in life, while encouraging body dissatisfaction. The internet is a very uncontrolled place leaving children vulnerable to harassment and online predators. The effects on one’s mental and physical health are drastic, leaving children with severe depression and anxiety. We cannot allow for the suffering of individuals; changes need to be made to implement safety strategies, media needs to be closely monitored for cyberbullying and identity verification needs to be implemented to spot predators.