Teenagers on Social Media: A Deliberation

April 5, 2022, we sat down as a class and discussed the idea of teenagers and their relationship with social media. Our focus was this; do you feel as though the age requirement for access to social media should be raised? Why?

To accomplish this, it started with a poll; do you feel as though the age requirement for access to social media should be raised? It was met with a unanimous show of hands for no. For reference, although each social media application varies with their age requirements, the average age requirement between the apps is 12 years old. 

Social media falls under a large umbrella, so we chose to take multiple different aspects of it and form them into five questions to effectively reach and deliberate this posed question to the best of our abilities:

  1. Have you ever felt your mental health being affected by social media? Why or why not?
  2. Do you feel as though generations (ours included) have grown up too quickly due to the influence of social media?
  3. How have influencers and, “influencer culture” altered your social media experience? How have influencers changed pop culture?
  4. Are there any specific social media platforms that you feel are more, “toxic,” or affected your mental health more than others? (Tiktok, Snapchat, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr)
  5. How can we address and solace the problem of the mental health crisis within social media? Do you think there is a solution?

The general consensus from the participants was that in their earlier years on social media, specifically middle school and high school days, was where they felt their mental health was more affected by social media than it is today. We came to the conclusion that this was through the content posted versus the amount of likes on their specific pages, which is something that piqued interest, as due to responses contradicting this, Instagram even created a “Hide Like Count” feature. In our deliberation, the idea of the “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, due to the content they saw from others caused more anxiety and stress than anything. 

The sexualization of teens through social media was also a topic of conversation that brought about new discoveries and opinions amongst the group. Teens today are forced to grow up too quickly due to the high amount of social media access and usage. They are able to consistently look up to these wealthier, older people on the internet and basically get a step by step guide on how to look older, do their makeup, and experience others growing up with them, which is something we had when we were teens, but not to this extent. In discussion, the tween era being missing is something that drove this point home. 

You cannot talk about social media and its effects on users without talking about influencers; they are social media. Overall, through deliberation there is consistent common ground with the idea that influencers are a positive aspect of social media, as they are more “real,” and are able to create communities that are more progressive and accepting. An important topic that was brought up was the idea that with social media as it is now, teenagers are able to choose who to idolize and let represent their content and beliefs, whereas before the era of teenagers across social media, Hollywood decided for us. 

Overall, we want real. The narrative of Hollywood choosing is over, drastically due to the teenage use and influence of social media and who they choose to let influence culture today. Through deliberation, we came to the conclusion that social media apps and platforms that allow for anonymity as the most toxic to not only us personally, but teeangers and other users across multiple demographics as well. This was also paired with the popular opinion that social media with easier access to larger-reaching audiences allow for more arguing and toxicity as well. The platforms we discussed the most were AskFM, TikTok, Twitter, and Reddit for this.

Lastly, we posed our final question; how can we address the issue? Is there a solution to the problem? Overall, we were once again met with productive conversation and the general conclusion that the best way to deal with teenagers on social media and its effects on people’s mental health is to first look within yourself. The idea of therapy and personal development were brought up on multiple occasions. We have the power on social media, and we can choose how often we’re on it, what we see, and can make changes within ourselves to ensure proper use for ourselves and teenagers around us. Not only more individualistic solutions versus social media wide solutions, but new conversations in society will reflect on the negativity and content seen on social media. 

To finish off our deliberation, we re-polled. Do you feel as though the age requirement should be raised for access to social media? Although met with fantastic deliberation, the opinion was still unanimous for no, the age requirement should not be raised.