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Self effected: How social media affects our teens

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 8:38 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Pearl High School 9th Grader Kai Jenkins keeps track of her social media use through the screen time feature on her iPhone.

“Daily I spend about 5 hours and 35 minutes on social media,” she said.

Kai Jenkins enjoys social media.
Kai Jenkins enjoys social media.(Kai Jenkins)

And she does her best to keep track of how it all affects her: the comparisons to the big influencers like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae, who look flawless and happy 24 hours a day.

Even after taking some pretty flawless selfies of her own, Jenkins says the comparisons can leave her feeling empty.

“Sometimes it does, because I put so much pressure on myself to be like these famous influencers when it really is not real,” Jenkins says.

True, it’s all an illusion. The countless filters on Instagram and TikTok can remove flaws, brighten eyes and teeth, apply sultry makeup, even change eye color. The possibilities are endless. After using the filters, it’s hard to remember what IS real.

Like the consequences of these platforms, hijacking so much time from teens and eroding their self esteem. Facebook, which owns Instagram, was taken to task for it recently in a Wall Street Journal article, which revealed the social media giant knows the effects it has on young people, from low self worth to eating disorders, but isn’t doing enough about it.

“Social media as a whole definitely plays a part on a young woman’s self-esteem,” says Deidere Hollins, Program Coordinator for the Hinds County Behavioral Health Crisis Stabilization Unit. It’s a 7-to-14 day inpatient program for teens.

“We do have quite a bit of young ladies who come in, for the most part, they have some depression, suicidal ideations, some self-harm, and a lot of it stems from social media,” Hollins tells us.

She says counseling and time away from the internet can make a difference.

“They realized there was something deeper than social media because they got to talk to someone one on one, they got to be around other females their age,” Hollins adds.

Face-to-face conversation and personal contact seem to be key. Jenkins’ mother Whitnee Roberts, a fan of social media herself, agrees.

“We use it together and I try to set the example of what it should be. It should be fun,” Roberts says. “I am more than open to help discuss those issues with her, to sort those out so she doesn’t develop insecurities based on what social media presents her.”

Whitnee Roberts and daughter Kai Jenkins
Whitnee Roberts and daughter Kai Jenkins(WLBT only)

As parents take responsibility for their roles, we wait, according to Hollins, for the platforms themselves to change.

“Reduce some of the filters. Advertise more realistic things, and not the illusion of what they think it is,” she says.

The steps Roberts is taking are two of the recommendations that have come out of research by Newport Academy, a series of evidence-based healing centers for adolescents and families struggling with mental health issues, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Along with being a good role model and making social media an opportunity for family connection, the research conducted by Don Grant, MA, MFA, DAC, SUDCC IV, PhD, Newport Academy’s Director of Outpatient Services in Santa Monica, suggests the following:

  • Guide your teen to recognize the triggers that send them to their devices.
  • Educate yourself and your kids about the social media apps.
  • Establish boundaries with social media usage.

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