Dangers of Social Media

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By Nazia Islam, LPC-S, RPT

Social Media has become a prevalent part of our everyday lives, and it has some positive social effects such as making friends, finding connections, building community, learning social skills, having fun, and sharing ideas and common interests. However, it is important to highlight some of the negative impacts/dangers of social media, especially with teens and children. In this article, I will focus on the dangers of social media to highlight the importance of internet safety. Being aware of its perils can help us better role model appropriate social media use and teach children and adolescents how to stay safe online.

Some of the dangers of social media include negative impact on mental health, its addictive quality, cyberbullying, negative body image, exposure to inappropriate content, catfishing, stalking, and exposure to predators.

Negative effects of mental health

According to the National Center for Health Research, there is a correlation between time spent on social media and symptoms of depression and anxiety. The research does not explicitly indicate whether time spent on social media causes these symptoms or if people are experiencing mental health problems turn to social media more frequently. However, research has found that time away can improve symptoms of depression of anxiety and increase happiness (Mir & Novas, n.d). Some of the negative effects on mental health are racing thoughts, excessive worry, fear of missing out, loneliness, distraction, low self-esteem, risky behavior, lack of motivation,
irritability, and sleep problems.

Addictive Quality

Social Media is built to be addictive, and this addiction affects our brain. Psychologists estimate that as many as 5 to 10% of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction (Hillard, 2019). Social media produces similar effects in the brain as gambling and recreational drugs do. When self-disclosing, receiving notifications or likes, or being included in a mention on social media, the brain receives a rush of dopamine. Therefore, the brain rewires itself looking for positive reinforcement from social media. This becomes problematic when people turn to social media to alleviate their symptoms of depression, stress, and loneliness to get the continuous dopamine they are not getting from their daily life. In turn, a behavioral addiction arises as they turn to social media more and more. This leads to problems in multiple areas such as health, interpersonal relationships, and daily living.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is harassment using electronic means. It can include posting violent or sexual content, insulting or attacking others, and spreading defamatory or personal information. Similar to bullying, cyberbullying is repeated intimidation and/or threats with an intent to harm. However, cyberbullying can happen anytime. The victim often cannot defend themselves. At times, the victim may not know who is targeting them and receives no break from the bullying since the bullying is occurring online. Some of the effects of cyberbullying include isolation, feelings of worthlessness, anhedonia, school avoidance, school failure, drug use, thoughts of suicide, and even suicide.

Negative Body Image

There is also a direct correlation between time spent on social media and negative image issues, in particular, those who spend time looking through appearance related content. In social media, people tend to present the best or filtered version of themselves thus setting unrealistic expectations. Constant comparison can lead to negative self-image, body image issues, body dysmorphia, and disordered eating.

Exposure to Inappropriate Content

Some inappropriate content that children and adolescents might come across are pornographic material, inappropriate language, sites that encourage criminal activity, hatred, animal abuse, bullying, gambling sights, exposure to sexism, and predators. Depending on the age and development, children are not able to process what they have seen. This often causes confusion, excessive worry, racing thoughts, guilt, nightmares, and changes in behavior.

Stalking

Social media can also be used as a tool to foster real life stalking or harassment. Stalking is the unwanted and repeated obsessive behavior toward an individual making them feel unsafe, nervous and forcing them to change their routines. People can use various social media platforms to find information about another person and their locations. An example sighted in a Forbes article states “Japanese police charged a man with assault after he used his victim's Instagram selfies–and in particular the reflection in her eyes–to pinpoint her local train station” (Chanler, 2019). Possible mental health consequences of being cyberstalked are panic attacks, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, depression, and significant fear for their safety.

Catfishing

The term catfishing means to use someone else’s images as your own to trick others to believe
you are a different person. Some common reasons that people choose to catfish are their own insecurities, mental illness, hide their identity, revenge, and to harass others. It can be emotionally devastating for someone who has been catfished, Embarrassment, anxiety, and depression are common results for a victim of catfishing. Furthermore, they may experience grief due to loss of a friendship or romantic partner. The victim may have shared personal information or “sexted” with the catfisher; this may produce worry that the person they once trusted may share those images or information with others. Some red flags that may indicate that you are being catfished is that the person does not have a lot of followers on social media, does not want to engage in video calls, or wants to meet up in person.

Exposure to Predators

Social media is an avenue also used by child predators to find victims. Predators frequently visit websites, platforms, games that children and teens visit and strike up a casual friendship or relationship by pretending to share interests. Once a friendship has been established, grooming begins by giving compliments and offering gifts. A trusting relationship soon follows, and the predator may start talking about sex, asking for pictures, or even offering money to the child so they can meet up. Predators may also blackmail children threatening to expose them or their pictures to continue receiving sexual favors. Some signs that a child is being groomed is that they are spending increased time online, getting upset when they cannot get online, consistently receiving texts, being secretive, getting unexplained gifts, finding pornography on their device, and changing mood and behavior.

Allowing your child to engage in social media without supervision is like dropping your child off at a dangerous part of town. It is creating an unsafe environment and exposing them to ideas and content they are not ready to handle emotionally. With all these lurking dangers on social media, it is important to know how to stay safe online. Also, it is important to consider how much access you want your child to have with social media, if any at all. Parents have started using creative ways to limit or keep their children off social media such as only having phones with only texts and calls, using an apple watch to keep in touch instead of giving their child a phone, and downloading apps to regulate usage. One creative mother promised their child $1800 to stay off social media for six years until his 18th birthday and reports having no regrets.

The reality is social media is here to stay and it is important that we as adults model appropriate
social media usage. Here are some tips to stay safe online for yourself and your child:

1. Limit personal information
2. Keep privacy settings on
3. Set up security questions
4. Be careful what you download5. Choose strong passwords
6. Be careful what you post
7. Respect and follow the age requirements for the platform
8. Be selective with who you accept as a friend
9. Be aware of privacy settings
10. Keep profile private
11. Never send inappropriate pictures or videos
12. Limit time and usage on social media
13. Never give out your address on social media
14. Set Guidelines and rules for social media use
15. Avoid using location services
16. Monitor your mood and behaviors, engage in self-care outside of social media
17. Download parental controls to limit usage, monitor calls and messages
18. For teens and children phones should stay out of the bedroom
19. Talk to children about stranger danger on the internet
20. Keep open communication with your child and teen

References
Chandler. S.(2019, October 1) Social Media is Fostering a Big Rise in Real World Stalking.
Forbes. Retrieved on Sep 21, 2022 from
https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonchandler/2019/10/11/social-media-proves-itself-to-be-the-
perfect-tool-for-stalkers/?sh=cbf7e933d79e
Hillard, J. (2019, July 15) Social Media Addiction. Addiction Center, Retrieved on Sep 22,
2022from
https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/

Kraut, M. (2022). Children and Grooming/ Online Predators. Child Crime Prevention and
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https://childsafety.losangelescriminallawyer.pro/children-and-grooming-online-predators.html\
Mir,E., Novas, C., Seymour, M. (n.d). Social Media and Adolescents and Young Adult’s Mental
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Social Media and Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Mental Health


Stabler,C. (2021, September 1) The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health. Penn Medicine
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https://www.lancastergeneralhealth.org/health-hub-home/2021/september/the-effects-of-social-
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