Social Media the Super Stressor

Social Media affects teenagers by causing anxiety, image and identity confusion, and problems creating and maintaining friendships and intimate relationships.

Social Media the Super Stressor

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr,, Vine, Kik – any of these sound familiar? They should. According to a survey in 2012, 95% of American teenagers have access to a computer and some form of Internet and 81% of these teenagers use social media sites. Recently, the importance of social media as a part of daily teenage life has increased. In fact, according to a Washington Post article by Masuma Ahuja, entitled “Teens are spending more time consuming media, on mobile devices”, teenagers spend more than 7.5 hours a day on social media.

West Bloomfield High School (WBHS) students were asked about their usage of social media. Dylan Edelman, (Grade 9) who states that he uses social media for about “forty to forty five minutes a day.” The social media sites Edelman uses include “Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, [and] Vine.” Edelman uses social media because, “I feel like I can be connected with my classmates and peers outside of school.” Edelman has a differing opinion about social media, “Sometimes [social media] can be distracting when I’m trying to do homework – I’m constantly thinking, did they like my photo on Instagram? Did bae send me a Snapchat? But [social media] also makes me feel good when people view my stuff and like my photos. I also like the colors – social media is very colorful.” Likewise, Chris Nyquist (Grade 10), explains that he uses social media for “an hour [a day].” The social media sites he uses include “Ifunny, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.” Nyquist uses social media for the purposes of “seeing what people are up to and entertain[ing] myself.” He believes social media “can affect your life positively, but you’re wasting productive time.” Finally, Terell Horton (Grade 12) claims she uses social media for “out the whole day, maybe like 2 [hours].” The social media sites she uses are “Facebook and soundcloud.” She uses these social media sites for the purposes of “sharing my art and communicating with friends periodical.” She states social media’s positive effects for her are “[having a] quick form of communication and being able to share content easily.” She believes social media’s negative effects for her are that it “takes away from people’s ability to entertain themselves.”


Mr. Chris Sturgill, a Biology 9 and AP Bio teacher of 17 years at WBHS states that the growth of social media has changed teenagers: “They’re differently distracted than they used to be. Socially it’s negative, but there are positives that we can take advantage of.” Despite the growth of social media, Sturgill claims that teaching “wasn’t that much different then than now.” He believes social media impacts students by “distract[ing] them but it’s just different distraction. We used to write notes in school, which was a distraction.” Sturgill does believe there are positive effects of social media, some being that “kids can communicate with each other more freely and easily and if that’s used in an academic way, it’s positive.” But Sturgill adds “with the good comes the bad. Kids are almost paralyzed by having their phones in their hands; they need constant, instant gratification and it deteriorates their ability to focus.” Along with the effects Sturgill has noticed, scientists have identified other effects including anxiety, image and identity confusion, and problems creating and maintaining friendships and intimate relationships.



One of the biggest changes the growth of social media and smart phones have brought is that people are never really alone. Smart phones allow the conversation to continue and social media brings the feeling that something new always occurs. “Whatever we think of the ‘relationships’ maintained and in some cases initiated on social media, kids never get a break from them,” notes Dr. Donna Wick, a clinical and developmental psychologist who runs Mind to Mind Parent. “And that, in and of itself, can produce anxiety. Everyone needs a respite from the demands of intimacy and connection; time alone to regroup, replenish and just chill out. When you don’t have that, it’s easy to become emotionally depleted, fertile ground for anxiety to breed.” The growth of social media also means that feeling lonely in all the activity is easy. Teenagers now know when they are being ignored, and this silence can be deafening. This silent treatment may be an intentional insult, or a relationship fading away. “In the old days when a boy was going to break up with you, he had to have a conversation with you. Or at least he had to call,” says Dr. Wick. “These days he might just disappear from your screen, and you never get to have the ‘What did I do?’ conversation.” Teenagers often imagine the worst about themselves. But even when the conversation does not end, this constant state of waiting can still provoke anxiety.



Scientists researched and identified that social media causes negative effects for teenagers. One of these effects is the way teenagers view themselves. Social media constantly promotes the idea of a “perfect” image. Whether it is size, weight, shape, makeup, hair, clothing, technology, etc., social media constantly promotes the “perfect teenager”. While all teenagers risk feeling the pressure of modeling the “perfect” image, studies show that teenage girls are at a higher risk of this pressure. Dr. Cathrine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect, states, “Girls are socialized more to compare themselves to other people, girls in particular, to develop their identities, so it makes them more vulnerable to the downside of all this.” She informs that a lack of solid self-esteem is often the cause. Teenagers can spend hours perfecting their online image, trying to portray the ideal image. Teenage girls sort through hundreds of photos, agonizing over which ones to post online; teenage boys compete for attention by trying to appear more masculine than one other. Teenagers do all this for peer acceptance which is a huge part of adolescent development. But often, doing this work to fit the perfect image, a teenager’s profile can end up not reflecting the true identity of the teenager. “Adolescence and the early twenties in particular are the years in which you are acutely aware of the contrasts between who you appear to be and who you think you are,” Dr. Steiner-Adair explains, “Self-esteem comes from consolidating who you are. The more identities you have, and the more time you spend pretending to be someone you aren’t, the harder it’s going to be to feel good about yourself,” Dr. Steiner-Adair concludes. Collectively, the growth of social media has caused teenagers to strive to fit the “perfect” image and, by doing so, lose who they really are inside.



A huge part of adolescent development comes from friendship and intimacy. Yet, Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA developmental psychologist, has seen a decline in intimate friendships between young people as a result of their use of social media. Instead, many young people now derive personal support and affirmation from “likes” and feedback to their postings. (CBC) The intimacy necessary for teenage development comes from self-disclosure. Self-disclosure refers to times when you share very private, intimate secrets about yourself with another person. “The whole idea behind intimacy is self-disclosure. Now they’re doing self-disclosure to an audience of hundreds,” Greenfield states. Due to the growth of smart phones, teenagers learn to have conversations over a screen instead of in-person. Teenagers are less connected to the world and other people, causing many problems in their development. “As a species we are very highly attuned to reading social cues,” says Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect. “There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. In a way, texting and online communicating—it’s not like it creates a nonverbal learning disability, but it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” The social cues that cannot be seen over text and other communication methods have a big impact on teenagers. friendships conducted online and through texts strip teenagers of many of the most personal—and sometimes intimidating—aspects of communication. It is easier for a teenager to keep their guard up while texting, so less is put at stake. The individuals are not hearing or seeing the effect their words have on the other person. And because the conversation is not happening in real time, each individual can take more time to consider their response. Social media makes most teenagers unfamiliar with and unable to handle direct confrontations and conversations. Many teenagers find them too intense to deal with. Social media causes teenagers to lack the skills necessary to successfully include intimacy in friendships and other relationships.


Collectively, the growth of social media has caused negative effects for teenagers. These effects include anxiety, image and identity confusion, and problems creating and maintaining friendships and intimate relationships. 77% of teenagers use some form of social media and every one of them is at risk to the negative effects social media poses. All the time teenagers spend staring at a screen can affect them. But what do you think? Is your screen time affecting you? Comment below with your answers.



“15 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to Beyond Facebook.” Reviews & Age Ratings. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

Dakin, Pauline. “Social Media Affecting Teens’ Concepts of Friendship, Intimacy.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

Ehmke, Rachel. “Get Informed.” Teens and Social Media. Child Mind Institute, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.