By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
The past year has produced a flurry of psychological studies and think pieces on the mental effects of social media on teenagers. Parents and psychologists alike worry that constant monitoring of sites can exacerbate the effects of anxiety and depression, enabling unhealthy comparisons, bullying and feelings of isolation.
As with any relatively new psychological query, studies on the happiness of teenagers and their social media use are not decidedly conclusive.
As this conversation continues, academically and in homes across the country, the Palisadian-Post wanted to see what students at Palisades Charter High School make of the debate.
But first, a quick note from the reporter:
This is a farewell letter of sorts.
After a truly enjoyable year-and-a-half covering education for the Post, I’m headed to San Diego for an exciting next step in my career.
I’m sad to leave the impressive young people of Pacific Palisades behind.
There are few things I’ve enjoyed more than sitting across from students—no hovering parents or teachers to interject—and listening to them speak openly and honestly.
This generation is so smart, versatile and savvy. They are uniquely compassionate and deeply emotionally intelligent.
They also do all the silly things that young people do. Every generation of young people does dumb stuff.
And every generation of young people gets criticized by their elders for the “way kids are today.”
Every generation of young people also faces unique challenges that their elders can’t possibly understand.
As someone only a generation removed, I already can hardly fathom the unique set of obstacles teenagers face today.
So when we talk about young people, it’s important not to discount the most vital source of information on the subject: them.
As a farewell and a nod to this concept, I’ll step out of the way for the rest of this piece.
Here are four Pali High students reflecting on one of the hottest topics in education. Let’s listen.
On basic human behavior:
“I think wanting to express yourself is kind of a human impulse and a human need. We have it so streamlined and so simple now with social media.
I’m willing to bet that if you introduced Victorian England to Twitter, you would have had the same results.
It allows for easier self-expression. And that’s a thing people long for.
And as for self-loathing … (laughing) I think people have always hated themselves.”
On recent studies and discussion:
“When older people write about social media, they seem to just jump on: ‘It makes kids feel suicidal. It’s just a pit of hatred and self-loathing.’
That hasn’t been my experience.
I think I’ve detached myself from social media enough to see it as something—if not to be laughed at—to be observed from an outside perspective.
I guess if you’re in it and you’re thinking ‘this is my life’—if you’re just a regular teenager and you’re thinking that, that sounds kind of hellish, just trying to make yourself look as good as possible. That probably is stressful.”
As a conduit for culture:
“My relationship to media is different. I don’t take it very seriously. An important part of it, at least for me, is that I do a lot of cultural writing. There’s so much happening on social media—it’s an easier way to tap into a culture. It’s interesting. And I think it leads to a lot of interesting phenomena.”
Alicia Abramson, Lilly Wollman and Peter Jebsen
On social media as self-expression:
J: “I think it definitely could be a positive way to express yourself. But to a certain extent, I think a lot of social media is anxiety-causing. It kind of turns into more of a popularity contest than somebody expressing themselves for who they are.”
A: “I don’t totally agree with that. I get the superficiality of it, but at the same time, I think social media can be used for really good things. A lot of the time, people do use it to express their own individuality. And it’s making everyone more interconnected.”
L: “It’s such a specific opportunity to curate your life when you don’t have a lot of control over what’s happening to you otherwise as a teenager. (Laughing) You’re born into a family you don’t get to choose, your life is decided by authority figures all the time. But you can kind of curate how you want your life to be as an online presence. That shows your personality.”
On phones reducing face-to-face social skills:
A: “I feel like that’s kind of a stereotype that a lot of teenagers have been passed into—that we can’t live for a second without our phones and our social media. I think that’s kind of stupid. It’s generalizing an entire age group.”
J: “Obviously if you’re ignoring people in person because you’re on your phone, that’s rude. But other than that I don’t see it as such a bad thing. It’s how we stay connected to the rest of the world. It’s like a portal. Humans are social creatures. It lets you connect with your friends when you’re not with them.”
L: “The argument is always made that our phones are a way to escape social interaction, but I feel like there have always been ways to escape social interaction. If you don’t have a phone, you can read a book.”
Social media v. reality:
A: “I think people are intelligent enough to realize that what people are posting on social media isn’t the case for them always. I see all these people at school. I see them on social media and I know what they’re actually like as human beings as well. I know all these people already.”
J: “I don’t think it’s safe to say that every single teenager is automatically able to dismiss that instantly.”
A: “That’s fair, that’s true.”
J: “I think it would be great if everybody could do that. Remember to take a step back and say, ‘This isn’t what their life is always like.’”
On the roots of loneliness and anxiety:
J: “FOMO [Fear of Missing Out] definitely existed 50 years ago. You would just find out about the party or whatever you weren’t invited to the next day, whereas now it’s instant. It’s not a new thing.”
A: “I don’t think any of these things are new phenomena. Before social media, people were jealous of other people.”
L: “It’s always existed. It’s nothing new. It’s just faster now. Most emotions surrounding phones have always existed. People like to assign credit to phones for everything, it’s such an easy target. But people don’t like to talk about all these other sources of anxiety. The expectations you have to fulfill, college.”
J: “So many people apply to college now and so the question is, ‘How do you differentiate yourself?’ You continually have to do more and more impressive, extreme things to stand out. And we have this culture of assigning teenagers gigantic amounts of homework.”
A: “And it’s not even just homework. It’s a really competitive culture and environment. It’s difficult to standout and escape from that. There are other pressing issues. As a teenager, being asked to talk about social media, it feels a little trivial.”
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