Social media is an integral part of almost every teen’s life. Posts, photos, and videos are available in an unending stream on a handful of different platforms. In that stream, just about every post can be liked and commented upon.
Trying to get as many likes as possible has a big effect on the well-being of teens. Teens can become hyper-fixated on social media and likes, affecting their mental health.
Many teens care a lot about social standing. They want to fit in with their friends and make new ones.
Social media complicates those efforts. It provides teens with an around-the-clock way to “affect” their social standing for better or for worse. Social media is built to capture their attention, keeping them online for as long as possible. It can be a great way to stay in touch with friends and see how they are doing, but it can easily get out of hand and do more harm than good.
A Neverending Effort
With the technology available today, most teenagers can access social media 24/7. That constant connection is a big part of the reason social media and “likes” play as large of a role in teens’ well-being as they do.
Desire to Belong
Everyone wants to belong, be it with their family, their friends, or their partner. Social media provides an easy — but incorrect — way for teens to gauge their “belonging” to a certain group.
Getting likes on social media does not correlate to belonging to a group of friends, but to a teenager, it often seems that way. Friendships are complicated, long-term social interactions that grow over the course of months, years, and beyond. Social media, and tracking likes, oversimplify that.
Social Media is an Imperfect Picture
Social media is full of pictures and posts of the best things in a persons’ life. Posts about vacations and family and friends and great experiences. If you are having a bad day, going on social media and seeing all your friends having a great time can make it worse.
On the larger scale, only seeing “highlight reels” of peers’ lives might make someone’s life look perfect even when they struggle just like everyone else. Looking at social media, it is easy to compare yourself to what you see at face value. Comparing yourself to only the best parts of someone’s life can result in loneliness, anger, jealousy, and envy.
Feeling jealous of a peer is problematic, resulting in lashing out and being mean to another because of their posts online.
It is easy to spend too much time online. To open your phone out of habit and end up scrolling through social media for fifteen minutes or longer. It is difficult to self-regulate screen time, and spending a lot of time on social media worsens its negative effects.
Social Media Affects the Brain
Studies show that social media and getting “likes” activates reward centers in the brain. As teens get likes it can make them want more and more.
One danger with social media is its pervasiveness. For many teens, all of their social media is in their pocket every hour of the day so it is hard to get away from it even if they want to.
Many teens become very invested in their social media accounts. They can feel pressure to respond to friends, to stay up to date, and to make the “perfect” post. It takes a lot of time and effort to cultivate several social media accounts, which leads to a constant state of stress over how their social media accounts are performing.
This state of stress takes the fun out of social media, replacing it with “how many likes did that get?”
Another danger of social media is it taking up time usually reserved for sleep. Seeing posts first and liking them, or chatting with friends into the night can easily run into sleep time. Getting consistently less sleep than the body needs is detrimental to the body physically and mentally.
As every social media platform is available on smartphones, teens can take them wherever they go. Being constantly plugged into their socials, receiving notifications when their friends post or like their posts constantly reminds them of their social media accounts.
Fear of Missing Out
Seeing everyone out and having fun with friends in recent posts or stories can make someone at home feel lonely or even ignored.
It Becomes a Contest
“Likes” can turn into a measurement of how popular or cool someone is. That someone with 200 likes on their photo is cooler than someone with 50 likes on their photo — which is not true.
Teens, especially those just getting into social media, can run afoul of it quickly by getting stressed, angry, or jealous when seeing someone who they think is more “successful” than they are. Social media is not a contest.
How to Alleviate the Stress
A teenager’s relationship with social media is complicated. In that stage of their lives they are learning about themselves, and social media can hurt that learning. Spending a lot of time online, they may socialize in person less or worry overmuch about how others perceive them.
Helping a teenager who struggles with social media and counting likes is just as complicated, but helping them find something they are interested in is a great place to start. Being involved in something athletic or academic outside of school is the perfect place to make friends and meet with them in person on a regular basis.
Social Media in the Younger Generations
Getting likes is not what social media is all about. They do not measure worth, or belonging, or much at all. Fishing for likes is a problem when too much value is attributed to them. Fixating on likes can negatively affect self-esteem and increase stress and anxiety.
Social media is not all bad. It allows people to stay connected over long periods of time, and even cultivate new friendships.