Social media and the internet have opened the door to a dangerous phenomenon called cyberbullying. Students have been given access to view their peers’ and total strangers’ lives at any given time. This has allowed negative feedback, criticism, and bullying to become what some may consider an epidemic. The ability to comment on another person’s life without the repercussions of saying it to them directly has given destructive power to others, and the effects are concerning. Constant comparison, decreased self-worth, and the development of psychiatric disorders are some of the many ways in which the internet has adversely affected students and the youth in general.
With the emergence of social media, student mental health has decreased drastically. Apps like Facebook, Instagram, MySpace, Twitter, and now TikTok have become popular amongst school-aged students over the last decade. Specifically, it has caused an uptick in depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and poor academic performance. All of these factors have specific relevance to students.
One of the largest impacts of social media is the way that it has altered communication and interaction in general. Students can now communicate with peers from afar without important aspects like tone involved. Messages can be misconstrued, harsh words are more accessible to fire off on a keyboard than to another person’s face, and the ability to quickly change one’s personality is easier than ever.
All of these changes impact the way that students feel about each other as well as themselves. Similarly, social media has allowed for the filtering, photoshopping, and editing of photos and videos. Students are constantly inundated with their peers’ highlight reels without a proper understanding of any challenges or hardships they may be facing. This constant exposure to what appears to be perfection can cause decreased self-esteem, resentment, and an overall feeling of inadequacy.
Long term, this can impact students’ driving forces, motivation, and health. For example, a student may experience heightened stress as they feel motivated to achieve a similar body type to a person they have seen on social media. This can contribute to depression, and anxiety, and become as serious as developing an eating disorder. It is important to remind students that not everything on the internet is truthful or realistic and that there is danger in constant comparison.
Another personal and school-related issue that has been linked to social media is decreased attention span. With apps like TikTok, students are exposed to quick 15-30 seconds videos that are effectively training the brain to seek instant pleasure or gratification. Because the prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until the age of 25, this can be harmful to students. As a result, their ability to focus becomes diminished. This could affect their schoolwork, future careers, and personal life.
Social media and the internet have paved the way for harmful peer-to-peer communication techniques. Bullying has plagued the school system since its conception, but cyberbullying is a newer subgroup of this traumatic experience.
The act of cyberbullying occurs via the internet and has allowed even more students to engage in this disturbing act. The root of this behavior is similar to traditional bullying in that it includes threats, rumors, lies, blackmailing, and generally aggressive language. With the ability to bully others from behind a device or screen, it has allowed students to spread hatred at an alarming rate. The implications of cyberbullying are concerning, with some incidences even ending in suicide.
Cyberbullying has the ability to greatly impact a student’s school experience. Although it affects primarily K-12th grade students, college students experience it as well. Students can be bullied by people they have never spoken to in person or even by someone they have never met. Most often, though, this bullying is done by friends or close peers.
The incessant harassment and torment can cause hysteria, paranoia, anxiety, and depression. Most males report cyberbullying in the form of physical threats, while females are faced more with rumors and lies. Even so, both genders experience all types of cyberbullying to some degree.
This bullying has impacted other school-related and societal issues like school shootings. Many of the mass shootings have been linked to cyberbullying and in-person bullying. School-aged males make up the majority of school shooters, which remains consistent with the physical violence correlation to the male gender. This relationship stands to prove the incredibly harmful effects of bullying on a young person’s psyche.
Other Internet-Related Concerns
Some of the other issues that coincide with internet use are exposed to violence, negativity, and hate. One prime example of this comes from playing online video games. Not only are young adults or children exposed to extreme violence, but they are also able to communicate with others from around the world.
A highly popular game, Call of Duty, allows users to join a game on the internet and talk freely with others playing the same game. They are simultaneously responsible for killing characters in video games while being exposed to vulgar and disturbing language. There are no filters on communication in these games, meaning hate speech, racial slurs, and bullying are free-flowing. Especially for younger students, this can be incredibly detrimental to their psyche.
The same goes for websites like Twitter and Reddit, in which there are very few limits on what users post. Profanity, indecency, and hate speech are just a few of the potential concerns found on these sites. Because many areas of the internet are not closely regulated, it is vital to monitor internet usage in students.
What The Data Shows
Research has shown a positive correlation between depressive symptoms and the time spent on social media. The higher the amount of social media exposure, the lower the self-conscience, self-worth, and overall mental health of students. One of the leading factors that contributed to this study was perceived physical and personality traits. Students were viewing others in a state of perfection and negatively comparing themselves to these people. The longer the exposure, the worse the symptoms became. Currently, research is being conducted on the addictive quality of social media, which will add another layer of concern to this already troubling area.
In regards to cyberbullying, a study conducted in 2006 showed that 40% of preteens were victims of this kind of bullying, and 30% of teenagers were as well. In 2006, the internet was not as readily available or accessible, so there is a strong likelihood that these numbers have increased.
How To Help
There are a few different ways that you can stay on top of these harmful effects of the internet. Firstly, it is wise to set limits on the amount of time your student is using social media or web browsing. With smaller windows of time being spent online, you can decrease the amount of exposure they are getting to potentially adverse experiences.
Next, monitoring your student’s use of their cellphone, tablet, or laptop can allow you to catch any psychologically damaging acts. Setting filters is a great way to monitor from afar. You can enter specific words or phrases of concern, and if or when they pop up, you will be notified. Similarly, asking your student to remove any password locks is important to avoid any secrecy when it comes to the internet.
Finally, having open and honest conversations about how the internet and social media can hurt their mental health is beneficial for greater understanding.
Although the internet offers many valuable aspects, the implications for younger adults and children can be concerning. Staying on top of your student’s social media and internet use can help negate the potentially harmful effects.
Using the internet for school work, positive peer communication, and enriching activities are some of the ways to utilize this tool in a positive manner. In the event that you do detect cyberbullying or other adverse internet-related problems, having a conversation with your student is the first step in intervention. As research continues to be conducted on the long-term effects of social media, further recommendations may be released.
We Can Help!
MHThrive provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Online Treatment Programs provides Teletherapy Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs allowing participants to receive intensive therapy with our licensed therapists and psychiatrists without having to leave home. If you or someone you know is struggling to overcome depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, panic attacks, PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other mental health or addiction issues, we can help. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our teletherapy programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Keywords: Student mental health; Cyberbullying; Social media and mental health
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