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The COVID Social Media Struggle.

Social media is one of the most prominent occupiers of time (and thoughts) for this generation, so it is crucial to find a balance that does not hinder the mental state of the users, particularly the youth during a time where staying indoors is the new normal.

With restrictions being lifted and cases of Coronavirus easing day-by-day people are gradually getting a taste of normal life again, but in the time of lock downs and quarantine phone and social media use by the youth has skyrocketed, potentially having longer lasting effects mentally than a virus ever could.

Surveys from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry show that 90% of teens aged 13-17 have used social media; it’s no secret that the platforms have become embedded into our daily lives, so ensuring that there is a balance within life is essential.

Integricare Social worker Pauline Jnaid has spent a lot of time this year sitting down with teenagers of all ages this year getting to understand the struggles they encounter and thoughts they have whilst spending such a long time indoors and on their devices. Not only has she noticed an increase in time being spent on phones in general but particularly social media.

“Times have changed and so has the human mind, kids are feeling more and more reliant on their phones nowadays, particularly for things like self validation.”

She believes that social media is a make or break for self-esteem amongst a large portion of the youth and stressed that it was an incredibly dangerous and counter-intuitive way of seeking approval. “Looking for people’s praise in the form of likes and a thumbs up on an app isn’t a good habit for anybody let alone young adults”. Research backs up Pauline’s statements with 2017 studies from ChildMind.org finding that more than 500,000 students ranging from year 8 to year 12 were exhibiting high levels of depressive symptoms rose from 2010 to 2015 by 33%. These statistics are most notable as these were times when smartphone use began to rise across all age demographics. It is also critical to mention that the chances of these numbers rising dramatically in the time of quarantine is highly plausible Pauline added, with the rates of depression already high from job-loss and isolation during this time, social media is just another factor in all of this so extra precautions are essential to ensure that people of all ages, particularly the youth are safe due to their vulnerability to becoming what Pauline has described as “a social media slave”.

So what exactly is a ‘social media slave’? Well, to put it simply if you’ve ever found yourself relying on likes, attention or views as a way to feel worthy or validated by your fellow peers on any online platform you may have fallen into this category and the truth is, it’s not uncommon and many of us have fallen into this trap at some point or another but more importantly, how do we avoid or better yet, escape it? 

After talking to Pauline I managed to sit down with her son, Marcus, a 16 year old high school student to see how he copes and handles all that comes along with social media as he professed he was on it ‘all the time’. He told me he utilises the “Do Not Disturb” feature on his phone which silences all notifications and puts his phone in another room when he is sleeping or studying as a way to disconnect from the temptation of scrolling through Instagram and Tik Tok or messaging friends for hours on end throughout the night. This is a crucial and incredibly important to our own wellbeing and mental health as sleep not only allows our body to repair itself but it also gives the human mind time to process thoughts and memories, when we lose sleep by replacing this recharge time with mindless scrolling we are only using this time to overload our thoughts, proving to have negative effects on our mental health.

When I asked Marcus how long he has gone without social media within one set period in time he admitted “I’ve always wanted to take a break from social media for at least a couple months but could never really bring myself to do it … So I’d really say maybe a couple hours” he did continue to say “Although during lockdowns and being at home I spent way more time than usual on it … I hate it but I can’t help it”. This seems to be the norm as much of the youth in this generation ultimately struggle to separate themselves from their phones for more than a day, a dependency that has detrimental effects to their mental health especially whilst stuck indoors. 

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are some of the most popular social media platforms worldwide (via Joseph Sahyoun)

Although effects may not be noticed immediately, it is significant to note that distancing yourself from social media or even just limiting screen time can have major effects on preventing symptoms of anxiety and depression or even just improving quality of life. Of course this is easier said than done, it is important to note that there is an abundance of things that people of all ages can do to limit their screen time especially whilst indoors, there is always the typical suggestions of drawing, painting or cooking to distance yourself from social media and keep your mind at ease but there are a few options that you can do using technology (just not social media). 

When asking youth aged from 13 to 18 I found out that whilst in quarantine they found new ways to keep themselves occupied and off social media, these included starting a YouTube channel, making memes and even just binge watching television shows. 13 year old Gabriel said “Scrolling through social media all day had me seeing memes all the time, so I kinda used that as motivation to start making my own for fun and as a way to pass the time.”

So it is clear that social media has been detrimental to the health of many the last few months of this pandemic but it also has been proven to be ways around it that can teach you a new skill or give you a new passion in the process!

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