BY GENEVIEVE MULLINS
Social media has become an essential part of the daily lives of many teenagers. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Pew Research Center, approximately 63% of teenagers report using social media every day while 45% say they are using the internet “almost constantly”.
The frequent use of social media among teenagers can often raise concerns for parents. Though there may be some potential drawbacks for social media use, it is important to firstly recognize that these platforms can also offer immense benefits when used appropriately.
Benefits of Social Media Use
Social media provides teens with the platform to connect with others, build social networks, and facilitate self-expression and creativity. Whether it’s posting photos on Instagram, or sharing a creative dance routine on TikTok, social media can be a great place to practice skills related to identity exploration and development.
Social media can provide cancer patients with the psychosocial support they need; particularly those without significant, in-person support systems. Many recognise social media as an avenue to communicate with people who are going through similar experiences.
Often times, it may feel uncomfortable to talk with close friends and family members about cancer-related challenges. The issues may include things like:
- Coping with physical changes (hair loss, weight gain, scars from surgery etc) that can result from the cancer or its treatment
- Fear of cancer returning (recurrence) or developing new health problems
- Anger or resentment towards the diagnosis and having to go through treatment when others do not
- Relying on parents at a time when a person is normally becoming more independent
- Having concerns about what to tell others or being treated differently or discriminated against (by friends, classmates, co-workers, employers, etc)
Connecting with fellow cancer patients online can help empower teens by providing support and information throughout different stages of the cancer trajectory.
Consequences Of Excessive Social Media Use
While social media can enrich a teenager’s life, it is important to also understand the implications:
- Social comparison – The constant evaluation of oneself with others, such as healthy family members, peers, and celebrities may result in adolescent cancer patients feeling isolated or alone and a sense of looking and feeling different to others.
- Sleep disruption –Research has found teens who were very high social media users (spending five hours or more on social media per day) were about 70 percent more likely to fall asleep after 11pm on school nights. Sleep deprivation in turn contributes to poor mental health, impaired daytime functioning and lower academic performance
- Cyberbullying – Research reveals 1 in 5 Australian young people report being socially excluded, threatened or abused online
- Misinformation – False or unreliable information can have the potential to mislead patients to believe cancer cures or unproven alternative therapy as true.
If unaware of the accuracy of the medical information posted online, there are several ways to spot the “Fake News”.
It is of no surprise that frequent social media use can negatively affect the health and wellbeing of teenagers. Watching the “Social Dilemma” documentary on Netflix opened my eyes to the phenomenon of social media addiction. Former design ethicist for Google, describes this constant craving as a psychological term known as “Positive Intermittent Reinforcement”. When users ‘refresh’ their newsfeed and receive new posts, the brain receives a rush of dopamine along the reward pathway, which motivates us to repeat such behaviours. The same can be said when gaining followers or receiving notifications and likes.
Social media becomes problematic when used as a coping mechanism to relieve undesirable moods and low self-esteem. Initially designed to bring people close together, social media – can more times than not – result in one feeling lonely and isolated. Worried about the significant amount of time spent on social media, why not try the following tips:
- Use an app to track and limit time spent on social media
- Leave electronics outside the room or turn off at a reasonable time
- Disable social media notifications
Alternative Ways To Spend Your Free Time
Though social media may be the most commonly known tool to pass time, there are alternative – more beneficial – ways one can keep occupied and entertained. Cutting back on screen time is a struggle many people face, however taking the time to try new things can have positive effects on health and wellbeing. Who knows, you might also discover a hidden talent!
- Learn how to cook a new recipe. The internet is filled with amazing food ideas that you can learn to re-create. Why not check out Pinterest and save some of your favourite recipes that you wish to try.
Not only will this be a fun and rewarding activity, cooking (and baking) can provide people with a range of psychological benefits, such as an outlet for creative self-expression, mindfulness, a healthy distraction, and a tremendous source of stress relief.
- Listen to a podcast. The great thing about podcasts is that you can choose from almost any topic. From informative and educational to comical and funny, you name it there’s a topic for you.
- Learn a new skill. Always wanted to learn how to knit, crochet, paint, dance or even speak another language. Start by leaving all electronics out of the room and dedicating one hour each day to learn something you’ve always wanted to do. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you acquire new skills.
- Journaling. Simply writing down your thoughts and feelings is a highly effective tool for reducing stress and expressing emotions. The good news is that there is no such thing as making a mistake while journaling. Whether you’ve just received a cancer diagnosis or are facing treatment, journaling may help you cope with your struggles. Grab a notebook that appeals to you aesthetically and get writing, doodling or drawing.
Genevieve’s fascination with the mind and its impact on human behavior led her to pursue a Bachelor of Psychology, at QUT, and then further continued to complete an honours degree, at University of Sunshine Coast. Genevieve envisions her future to embrace a career assisting adults in discovering the cause of psychological issues and in turn providing guidance to alleviate pain and suffering. When she’s not working full time, Genevieve can be found relaxing at a coffee shop, jogging along the boardwalk of the Brisbane River, partaking in an early morning yoga class, or simply reading a good novel with a cup of tea.