Social Media: A friend or foe of the youth?

With an increase in numbers of social media users in the UK, the dependency on the Internet and social media have also increased considerably. Youngsters are at the increasing risk of exposing themselves to the potential impact of social media on their mental health. So, the question arises, what is the best possible way to use social media?

Social media has quickly become a major part of our lives. According to Statista, globally, the average daily time users spend online is 135 minutes i.e. more than two hours of our day is spent on social media. (Statista, 2017)

In a survey published by the same website, in the UK, the number of monthly active users by the year 2022 is predicted to reach up to 42.28 million individuals, which is over four million new users as compared to 38.01 million users in 2015. The active social media users in the UK rounds up to 66 per cent of UK’s population. (Satista, January 2018)

Forecast of social media network user numbers in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2015 to 2022 (in million users) Source: Statista
Forecast of social network user numbers in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2015 to 2022 (in million users)
Source: Statista

Spending so much time in the virtual world leads to a direct impact on the mental health of the users, especially young adults in their adolescent stage of life. Experts say that cyberbullying and other mental health issues are a subset of staying online for long hours, away from the real world.

50th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology & Health at the University of Manchester, Sir Cary Cooper, said that spending more time on the Internet and social media websites, is one of the main causes of cyberbullying and several other issues that have a negative impact on the emotional and mental health of an individual. Acknowledging concerns over the impact of social media on the mental health of the youth, Cooper said: “As fewer people interact face-to-face, there is an increase in confusion in understanding the messages. It can in some ways adversely affect the mental well-being of young people. The other aspect of it is that if young people stay on social media too long, there is a lost opportunity cost associated with it in terms of doing more active things in life.”


Professor of Organizational Psychology & Health, Sir Cary Cooper talks about impact of social media on the youth
Professor of Organizational Psychology & Health, Sir Cary Cooper
(Source: Sir Cary Cooper)

Social Media as a friend

The survey by Statista highlights that a whopping 95 per cent of youngsters aged 16-24 years spent most of their leisure time surfing websites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc. While these websites may have certain benefits, they are proven to have had a negative influence when used for long hours.

Experts say that social media if used strategically, can have a lot of positive impacts on the lives of students. Bronia Dong, BA Fashion Marketing and Promotion student at the University of Westminster, agrees: “Being an international student (from China) in the UK hasn’t really been my strong point. As a fashion student, I am expected to stay up to date with the latest trends in the market and the only way I can do that is by following popular celebrities on social media.”

According to Bronia, the Internet isn’t a problem, as long as it is in control. “I check Instagram and Facebook multiple times daily to see the latest posts by my favourite celebrities like Lucky Blue Smith, Victoria Beckham, Gigi Hadid, etc. However, I am not hooked or addicted to it. When I have my assessments and other important things to do, I don’t spend any time on my phone. So for me, it is all about priorities.”

Impact of Social Media 

Emily Frith, Director of Mental Health in Education Polity Institute (EPI), has examined the impact of using social media on the mental health of young individuals. The author of three reports from the Education Policy Institute’s Independent Commission on Children and Young People’s Mental Health scrutinized the benefits and risks associated with social media in the evolving digital era.

In her recent research titled ‘Social media and children’s mental health (June 2017), Frith points out that youngsters in developed countries live their lives dependent on technology because they’ve grown up surrounded by it. It is, therefore, an essential tool that serves a variety of purposes in their day-to-day lives. The research also states that over one-third of all 15-year-olds in the UK are ‘extreme internet users’, and are at risk.

Cooper points out the risk of social media is rising due to the mentality of the youngsters. He said: “The problem is the posts many youngsters upload when they’re younger that employers pick up later. It can adversely affect some of them going for jobs so, I think they have to be very careful about what they post and they have to be very limited and they should not overuse it.”

Explaining how the young millennials can avoid these risks he said: “What they do wrong is that they start posting all sorts of things that could come back and bite them later in life. When they are seeking jobs and trying to gain credits and someone goes on their account and finds some of the inappropriate things they said that could adversely affect them. So I suggest they use it for the right kinds of purposes and avoid posts that might attract negativity.”

Risk of Social Media Addiction

While Bronia says social media can be your friend, Sopan Gomkale, a student at Nagpur University in India, thinks differently. He said: “Spending more and more time on Facebook and Instagram almost made me slip into depression. In the initial years of college, I was struggling with my studies and seeing all my friends post amazing pictures of them having fun and clearing exams made me feel miserable about myself. I couldn’t go out and eventually, I stopped attending college as well. I use to stay locked up in my room for hours and not to do anything.”

He also said that he had a tough time concentrating due to the constant urge to check notifications. “It was a difficult phase in my life and social media only made it worse. My advice to everyone is that while one should spend time on these social media websites, they shouldn’t get intimidated by others posts and number of likes,” said Sopan.

Average Time spent by an user on social media, by reach 2018
Average Time spent by a user on Social Media, by reach 2018 Infographic Source: Barkha Goenka via Canva Data Source: Statista

Pritesh Joshi, a Cognitive Behavioral therapist practising in the UK, is of the opinion that Internet addiction fuels anxiety and depression among youth. He said: “People are spending more time on social media comparing their lives to others, seeing highlights of others lives and thinking others have a better situation compared to theirs when in reality that’s not always the case. It has a big effect psychologically.”

He adds: ” People often get into a situation where they might base their self-esteem on how many of likes they get or who views their post. It’s a problem as well because it’s not a genuine thing. My advice to them is to avoid putting their confidence on the number of likes and response to their posts.”

With mental health of an individual being the key priority, it is important to monitor the use of social media and make sure to explore the development of resilience in young people in the increasingly complex digital age.


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