The future is bleak, with mental illnesses on the rise stemming from social media access
Content Warning: This article includes discussion of mental health, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders that could be distressing to some readers.
The Next Generation
The usage of social media has grown rapidly in the last generation with children now having access to online media, it has been reported that 62% of children aged 3-17 have their own profile on a social media platform with this rising to 94% for teenagers aged 16-17. The constant access to social media has only grown over the years with new platforms constantly appearing with the new and most prominent being TikTok allowing individuals to watch short-form content, this content varies from simple dances all the way to effective targeted marketing with social media allowing businesses to have access to the younger generation.
The rise in this access despite allowing people to have access to content including news and the ability to contact friends has led to a bigger disconnect to reality than ever with children now being chronically online while viewing content from creators attempting to sell them something, with children viewing attractive influencers encouraging them to reflect on their own self worth both externally and internally which can have huge negative connotations. The rise in the usage of social media to excess has been shown to give children anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addiction. This can stem from being shown lavish lifestyles with healthy eating and constant exercise while being positive all the way through, a wholly unrealistic expectation from a child who is now going to constantly reflect on their own self worth indulging in constant self-judgement. The maturity from age to ignore content or not be misled by content is not present in children meaning they are much more susceptible to it, social media can end up being the centre of a child's world meaning they are even more prone to the aforementioned mental illness.
The Mind Rot
Cyberbullying or online bullying has also been on the rise and has been shown to have hugely negative effects on younger people with 59% of teenagers reporting experiencing some form of it. The cushion of maturity as mentioned before may allow an older person to disregard cyberbullying or tell some to “just turn it off” but this awareness does not exist for children who may have their online presence at the centre of their world. Bullying can lead to people being ostracised experiencing loneliness and not able to talk to their parents due to their lack of understanding while the parents are also unaware of it due to how invisible it can be, this may lead to children experiencing anxiety, depression and more and in the most dire of cases suicide.
The access to internet has also led to age barriers almost becoming non-existent with children simply being required to select that they are above 18 in order to view adult content, this barrier doesn’t even work on content which slips through the cracks on platforms such as Instagram where violent and pornographic material is shown, which can desensitise children to it.
The consequences of these issues are children who are unable to experience their youth with confidence as they are worried about their perception, the ones suffering from mental illnesses stemming from the self-judgement can often begin to doubt themselves severely not engaging in activities a child should experience such as socialising and group events leading to missing developmental milestones. The worst of them can suffer from eating disorders at a young age trying to replicate their social media icons, social media is turning into a vacuum chamber of anonymous opinions being taken as fact by children.
What the Future Holds
The future however is showing signs of improvement with law bodies recognising the negative effects of social media with France now requiring influencers to label their edited photos and videos, this is compounded by social media platforms now allowing parental locks on accounts while parents are calling for better policing online in general. The damage on the next generation cannot be ignored with coronavirus revealing the problems of constant internet access and spurring the growth of it, but if things change now and access is limited to children until they have the emotional maturity to deal with the negativity of it we may notice a reversal in the catastrophic impact on mental health.
The next generation is who carries on our society and how can we expect them to do this if they are already doubting themselves in the first place?
They must believe in themselves and with the right mentoring they can do this.