Social Media in High Schools: A New Approach


Sophie Brissett, Column Editor

Many teenagers are warned from social media because of the potential impact it has on mental health, and because it may be negative for self image. There could be validity in these statements if engaging in social media can increase a person’s vulnerability to poor self image and dangerous thinking patterns. However, researchers have not provided a concrete correlation yet to prove so. Even if it were true, are teenagers to blame? Few people deny that social media can be unhealthy, but what solution is there? How can an entire generation of children be expected to withdraw from a platform that is so closely tied to their identity, and contains so much of their social lives? 

Social media professionals debate whether there is a direct correlation between social media and negative mental health, because those claims have not yet been proven. The University of Virginia’s Professor of Media Studies, Siva Vaidhyanathan, expressed the challenge in analyzing social media during an interview. “The most we can say is that among those who report suffering from mental health issues, including propensity for self-harm and eating disorders, an overwhelming number of them report that Instagram use makes their conditions worse.” It would be an assumption to say social media causes mental health issues, but it has been proven that those vulnerable to them often report that social media worsens their state. 

Alani Green, a CHS junior, talked about the effect instagram influencers have on teenagers and children. “Little girls have been struggling, saying ‘I’m too fat’, ‘I’m too skinny’, ‘I need to gain weight’, because they are looking at the things they see on social media. It’s really depressing, and it’s really sad to see them like that.” It is true that children and teenagers are gaining more access to social media, because without parental action, it is very hard to limit. 

Teenagers use social media for a myriad of purposes, from news updates to exercise and eating plans. Even with the best intentions, teenagers can find themselves getting sucked into toxic thought patterns and habits that make distancing themselves from social media incredibly challenging. One central challenge of using any social media platform is staying away from the pitfall of fake news, which can plant false seeds into the minds of readers and can incite hatred among them. Siva Vaidhyanathan advises all social media users to “use technologies carefully and with full awareness of their harms and benefits. We have become increasingly aware of the harm to both individuals and society.” 

Most teenagers on social media have repeatedly been informed of its dangers by  adults. However true those warnings may ring, they are often not enough to make a teenager remove themselves from all social media platforms. Social media is easily accessible and is an essential portion of the social lives of its users, making it  hard to cut out. As long as teenagers have access to social media platforms they will continue to use it, and  constant adult discouragement of social media will not solve the problem. 

An essential piece of crafting a solution to this problem is remembering not to hold teenagers completely responsible. Youths cannot be blamed that they have been provided with unlimited access to their cell phones, and that we now live in a society in which phones are practically mandatory. Mr. Josselyn, one of CHS’s eleventh grade English teachers, voiced this sympathy in an interview. “You have to realize that you are dealing with students who are facing an addiction to the most addictive device that human beings have ever created.” Mr. Josselyn has spent many years contemplating how to aid his students, because he was observing the deteriorating effect cell phones had on teenagers. “I felt like I was being disrespected on a daily basis by half the class sometimes,” he said. “My reaction was to yell, to punish, to call home, and at some point towards the end of the first year I had this fundamental realization that I was not dealing with an issue of disrespect.” 

However, Mr. Josselyn has changed his approach into one he wishes all teachers would follow. He focuses on “helping kids who are dealing with addiction come back to their senses and be in the room where they need to be.” Mr. Josselyn has started this process by turning the conversation to teenagers, and asking them how they would  address and solve this problem. 

Saba Wubet, a CHS junior who took part in a debate concerning social media, advises her peers to take things one step at a time. Because social media is so complex, and the issue is over-exaggerated, she encourages teenagers to look at where they are and make a personal decision. She has decided that it is very important to verify whether or not a source is trustworthy before  one spends time on it, and to be cautious falling into whatever news they hear. In addition, if a teenager feels that constant social media feed has a negative effect on them, she recommends they care for their own needs first and slowly distance themselves from outlets that lead to toxic thoughts. “If you need a break”, she advises, “completely delete all of your social media and take all of the time that you need.” 

Though no  solution to this social media endemic has no been found, teenagers and adults can take  advice from Mr. Josselyn and Saba to limit their reliance on technology. Teachers and parents should transition from a place of anger towards  students who would rather stare at a screen than engage in class, to a place of sympathy and guidance. Students should take time to learn their  limits and decide what type of restrictions  they need to set for themselves in order to avoid toxic mental spirals. The most important step in moving forward is for adults and students alike to avoid placing the blame on students, because doing so only creates a larger barrier between the two groups. In the words of Siva Vaidhyanathan, “Remember: The problems in this world are never caused by the 15-year-olds… There is hope because so many 15-year-olds care so much.”