After a long day at school, you struggle to focus -- you’re tired. You open TikTok to unwind. But research has shown that social media does just the opposite. Maybe your feed has clips about baking or cute dogs. Perhaps it has video game strategies or sports highlights. No matter what is in your feed, you are still going to come across videos of women with hourglass figures and perfectly clear skin, or of muscular guys lifting weights with ease. They make everything look perfect.
Teens use social media to “create online identities, communicate with others and build social networks. We also use social media for entertainment and self-expression”
Whether it comes from our parents, our teachers, or the documentaries we’ve been forced to sit through, we’ve all been told that social media isn’t good for us. But what about social media is so bad for us? Teens use social media to “create online identities, communicate with others and build social networks. We also use social media for entertainment and self-expression” (3). About 89% of teens between the ages of 14 and 17 use social media (1). A recent survey was sent out to the EHS community and of the 70 respondents, 40% say they spend two to three hours on social media daily and 22% of respondents spend three to four. Nearly 83% of respondents say that they sometimes, often, or always compare themselves with people on social media.
Walk the hallways and you will hear many teens asking each other whether or not they saw some random influencer’s post or that video. The numbers from our survey suggest that many teens have been struggling with screen time and with comparisons that may damage their self-esteem. Perhaps sharing our struggles with classmates can remove the stigma from and eventually solve some of these problems.
As soon as you open TikTok, you see short videos made by young creators that you never actively chose to watch. Content is being dished out to us, hence the word “feed.” These videos can and do present a very skewed view of the world, and we buy into it. We start to believe that everyone is beautiful, happy, confident, rich and talented. We cannot help but feel down about ourselves when these videos are perfectly designed to avoid showing any flaws. Social media presents a very air-brushed view of life.
“Insecurity is something that comes with life, whether you like it or not. I don't think anyone can ever be completely satisfied with themselves, but that is how we improve ourselves and progress. It's okay to not feel confident sometimes, but you shouldn't let that feeling stick around too long.” - Simona Gershik
It’s important to note that it is not a free choice to be negatively affected by social media. Social media is designed to force us to critically focus more on ourselves and, given the time we teens spend on social media, we sit contemplating our flaws for far too much time. Comparison- especially to an unattainable ideal- causes problems, and Edgemont student voices agree. Daisy Gilmore shared a poignant quote, saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Simona Gershik writes that, “Insecurity is something that comes with life, whether you like it or not. I don't think anyone can ever be completely satisfied with themselves, but that is how we improve ourselves and progress. It's okay to not feel confident sometimes, but you shouldn't let that feeling stick around too long.”
But why, if we know we aren’t doing anything good for ourselves, do we continuously open social media? In Edgemont alone 32% of students use Tiktok more often than any other social media platform. Tiktok’s short sixty second videos help keep us interested. I’m sure you’ve come across a longer video and immediately scrolled because you didn’t want to put in the time; we’ve all done this.
It seems likely that Tiktok leads to a shortened attention span because we become acclimated to satisfying our cravings with shorter videos. When we are looking for something to cure boredom, all we have to do is turn on our phones, open an app and immediately we are entertained.
"The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is one of the primary parts of the brain responsible for determining the rewards system in people’s bodies. When social media users receive positive feedback (likes), their brains fire off dopamine receptors, which is facilitated in part by the VTA.”
Other forms of entertainment or enjoyment take more effort, and TikTok is sometimes just the easiest option. “The Psychology of Social Media” states that “The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is one of the primary parts of the brain responsible for determining the rewards system in people’s bodies. When social media users receive positive feedback (likes), their brains fire off dopamine receptors, which is facilitated in part by the VTA.” We get addicted to this constant flow of dopamine and new information, and scientists have compared the overuse of social media with the use of drugs. With social media so tightly connected to individuals’ reward systems, users should realize the power – and potential abuse – that’s contained in the platforms they use. Things like gambling and narcotic drugs have the power to rule over the brain’s rewards system in a similar capacity. Social media users should be aware of these parallels to avoid potential pitfalls.
It’s easy for people to say we should just “stop using social media” or “just delete the app.” But for the past two years, while stuck at home, social media has been not only our outlet but a huge part of our lives. According to Pew Research Center, about “seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves.” We can’t just let go of something we are all looped into.
Because it’s such a major part of our lives, and it has truly brought joy to us all in some capacity, there must be some benefits to using TikTok. Tiktok allows us the opportunity to change the way others perceive us instantaneously. This tempts teens to share who they want to be or what they want to look like online. Additionally, it’s difficult for us to give up something that makes us feel somewhat normal in a world where there aren’t many constants, considering the pandemic.
Ultimately, TikTok creates an environment in which we associate happiness with physical perfection. We think that having the clearest face, the slimmest waist or the biggest muscles are the keys to happiness. This can bring moments of satisfaction or artificially manufactured happiness because these physical attributes and the positive responses to them are easier to attain than true and long-lasting joy. The influencers with perfect eyes and bigger lips, for example, all seem to be happy. We think there is a direct correlation between having the ideal body and being happy.
There is hope for our generation though. It is so important to continue to talk about our feelings and the ways social media affects us. This article isn’t meant to suggest that readers delete social media, but more that they question what social media is actually doing to them. It’s time we talk about what is going on behind our screens, and that growing up surrounded by electronics wasn’t really our choice, but a rather rapid development.
“It’s impossible to avoid the internet itself.” - David Lee
Edgemont student, David (Jae Won) Lee reminds us that “it’s impossible to avoid the internet itself.” The overwhelming number of responses on the questionnaire all shared similar pieces of advice, such as, “always remember that you are worthy” or that “most of the things you see online aren't true, or real. People will go out of their way to edit or hide things they deem 'undesirable', but believe me, they look just like you do. Everybody isn't stick thin, with flawless skin and perfect lives. It's important to remember that, especially when it comes to apps like Instagram, where it's so easy and tempting to photoshop their pictures before they hit 'post'. People look just like you.”
“Body image lives in your mind. it’s how you see yourself, not how other people see you.” - Benunthi Singh
Good advice also comes from Alisha Rahman who says, “You should love yourself and be yourself,” and from Benunthi Singh who says, “Body image lives in your mind. it’s how you see yourself, not how other people see you.” Considering all these responses from Edgemont students, it seems like many of us are in the same boat. Hopefully, we can support each other in the future – both on the screen and off of it. If you or your peer is struggling, be sure to tell a trusted adult. Mitchell Vayser offered a nice conclusion when he said, “At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what other people think about you. If you think that you are amazing, then you are amazing, and you shouldn't let anyone tell you otherwise.”