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  • Writer's pictureEmily Fountas

Youth and Social Media

Updated: Jan 5, 2020

Jean Twenge, in her book iGen interviews a 17 year old, Kevin, who tells her that "I feel that we don't party as much. People stay in more often. My generation lost interest in socializing in person--they don't have physical get-together, they just text together, and they can just stay at home."

Twenge goes on to say to quote other students in high school and university, all born around 1995 as social media was becoming accessible to them in their early teens. The effect on their social lives was profound as the face-to-face contact between teens has been reduced by half between 2000 and 2015. Pew Research from July 2019 indicates that about 25% of youth in the U.S. today are online virtually their entire waking day and even children as young as 8 spend about 6 1/2 hours a day on a screen of some type according to Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne in So Sexy, So Soon.

This is having profound repercussions on mental health. While we may wonder whether on-line time "connecting" to others is just as effective on the sense of belonging as in-person interactions the science indicates otherwise. Quoting the Monitoring the Future surveys done between 2013-2015 we see a strong correlation between happiness in teens and use of social media: more use of social media equals more unhappiness. Twenge writes: ". . . 8th graders who spend ten or more hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to be unhappy than those who don't. Even those who spend 6 hours are 47% more likely to say they are unhappy. These numbers change when the teens spend more in-person time with their friends with the likelihood of being unhappy being 20% less when that is the case.

We are wired genetically to be with each other as social animals and this can work against youth when online presence substitutes for face-to-face friendships. Bullying, exclusion, suicide, depression and anxiety have all been on the rise and though technology is one factor among many, when it is substituted for meaningful social interaction it exacerbates the negative aspects of this technology.

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