The Negative Impact of Social Media on Today’s Youth: What do K-12 leaders need to know?
June 3rd, 2022
While social media helps us stay connected in an increasingly globalized world, it doesn’t come without consequences. Through numerous studies, frequent social media use has been linked to increased mental, emotional, and physical risks and issues among adolescents. As an educational leader, developing strategies and policies to protect students can be a challenge and often requires innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.
Below, we’ll outline several negative consequences that social media can have on today’s youth as well as potential solutions to support the well-being and safety of your students.
Increased Rates of Depression and Self-Harm/Suicidal Activity
In a 2011 study, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that regular social media use among pre-teens and teenagers led to increased signs of depression compared to youth who did not use social media regularly (O’Keeffe, 2021). While social media networks can help youth stay connected, they also provide a constant reminder of what they’re missing out on. Much of the depression and negative self-image that stems from social media use likely results from students comparing their own lives to carefully curated online content and having a general impression that others are more successful or better off than they are (McDool, 2016).
Studies have also found links between frequent social media use and increased self-harm or suicidal behavior. One observational study noted that individuals who used social media for more than a few hours per week self-reported lower happiness, life satisfaction, and self-esteem levels (Abi-Jaoude, 2020). While adolescence is a challenging time, social media seems to have exacerbated the issue and introduced new challenges into the K-12 landscape.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice, approximately 16% of high school students have experienced cyberbullying in the United States (Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, 2021). While bullying is nothing new, cyberbullying can be more discreet, making it difficult to notice when a student is the victim of online attacks. With the ability to hide behind fake accounts or use multiple accounts, enforcing disciplinary action is also a challenge that many schools are grappling with.
Lower Sleep Quality
Some of the negative consequences of social media result from frequent use of technology rather than social media itself. In addition to frequent blue light exposure leading to reduced levels of melatonin and lower sleep quality, individuals with technology addiction have been shown to have altered brain chemistry, specifically increased GABA levels. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the most common inhibitory neurotransmitter in your central nervous system. GABA lessens the ability of a nerve cell to receive, create or send chemical messages to other nerve cells. GABA is known for producing a calming effect.”
GABA is responsible for regulating vision, motor control, and anxiety, and increased levels can lead to drowsiness and anxiety, affecting the social lives and wellbeing of students (Taylor, 2017).
Decreased Face-to-Face Interpersonal Skills
As a result of using more casual language and spending less time engaging in a face-to-face setting, many employers and school officials are reporting that students who use social media frequently have weaker interpersonal skills than those that do not. Improper development of in-person social skills can affect students’ ability to excel in future jobs or social settings and lead to lifelong social challenges (Akram, 2017).
With an unlimited amount of information, content, and social connection at the tip of students’ fingertips, it’s no surprise that social media is a distraction both inside and outside of the classroom. In fact, just placing a smartphone on the table during a conversation has been shown to affect attention and the ability to concentrate (Ward, 2017).
Besides distracting students in class, using social media outside of the classroom takes time away from more enriching activities, such as studying, engaging with friends in-person, and spending time outdoors.
Threats to Personal Safety
Most students today were brought up in a world where information is easily and readily accessible – including personal information. There are often no boundaries when it comes to sharing information online, especially for young children who are not aware of the dangers or predators lurking behind the screen. This lack of privacy can result in threats to student safety and wellbeing and make adolescents just as vulnerable to identity theft as adults (Sinnathamby Sehgar, 2021).
How to Help Students Use Social Media Positively
Education and awareness have the largest impact when it comes to protecting today’s youth from the negative impact of social media. Providing lessons and information on how to protect personal information, the potential dangers of sharing personal information online, and mental health practices can help students build their personal toolbox and make decisions on when and how to use social media networks. When it comes to younger children, moderating content can also be an effective approach (Akram, 2021).
Some schools have opted to implement cyberbullying policies in an attempt to mitigate negative consequences resulting from online attacks. While results from implementing these policies into the school environment are varied, the action itself can help raise awareness and support surrounding the issue.
Since there’s no preventing students from engaging with social media networks, educating teachers and administrators about the negative effects on students and working to implement student-facing social media education programs can create waves of change and support the mental health, wellbeing, and safety of K-12 students.
Abi-Jaoude, Elia, et al. “Smartphones, Social Media Use and Youth Mental Health.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 192, no. 6, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.190434.
Akram, W., and R. Kumar. “A Study on Positive and Negative Effects of Social Media on Society.” International Journal of Computer Sciences and Engineering, vol. 5, no. 10, 2017, pp. 351–354., https://doi.org/10.26438/ijcse/v5i10.351354.
A/P Sinnathamby Sehgar, Sopna, and Zuriati Ahmad Zukarnain. “Online Identity Theft, Security Issues, and Reputational Damage.” 2021, https://doi.org/10.20944/preprints202102.0082.v1.
Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA). “What Is Cyberbullying.” StopBullying.gov, 5 Nov. 2021, https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it.
McDool, Emily, et al. “Social Media Use and Children’s Wellbeing.” SSRN Electronic Journal, Dec. 2016, pp. 4–5., https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2886783.
O’Keeffe, Gwenn Schurgin, and Kathleen Clarke-Pearson. “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.” Pediatrics, vol. 127, no. 4, 2011, pp. 800–804., https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-0054.
Taylor, S. (2017. Smartphone addiction may cause brain imbalance. Radiology Society of North America. Retrieved from https://rsna2017.rsna.org/dailybulletin/index.cfm?pg=17fri08
Ward, Adrian F., et al. “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity.” Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, vol. 2, no. 2, 2017, pp. 140–154., https://doi.org/10.1086/691462.