Teens continue to flail and flourish in an online, pandemic world

By Shrinija Dandibhotla

According to a poll conducted by Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, about 63 percent of 2,000 parents of teenagers have reported that their children began using social media more in quarantine than ever before. Parents who participated in this study agreed that their teens’ social media consumption during the pandemic has increased on platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. 

In the past, these commonly used apps and social network services have been used mostly for entertainment, but the socially restrictive life of the pandemic has now allowed teens to create awareness accounts on global issues, start up their own online businesses, and express themselves and their passions through these online outlets.

Jessica L. Hamilton from Rutgers University, Jacqueline Nesi from Alpert Medical School at Brown University and Sophia Choukas-Bradley from the University of Delaware discussed in their report how “social media also can facilitate the development of intellectual ideas and activism, as teens become increasingly aware of the world and the way in which policies affect them.” 

One example of this can be seen in the Methacton community itself through MHS clubs such as the Multicultural Club and Save-A-Life. These groups have been regularly posting on their Instagram accounts about mental health issues, humanitarian crises, political/historical figures, cultural holidays, safety warnings and environmental concerns. 

Furthermore, the MHS Medicine and Science Club and the Methacton Black Student Union have also been updating their social media platforms regarding upcoming projects and guest speaker informational meetings to help and educate the community. 

Hamilton, Nesi and Choukas-Bradley have highlighted that “during national and worldwide crises such as school shootings and global warming, teens have increasingly used social media to develop and express their opinions and ideas.” 

In the era of digital connections and COVID-19, social media has offered unique opportunities for teens to access news and health information, while also spreading that knowledge to their peers and community. It is common to find many teens not only posting on their Snapchat, Instagram, or FaceBook stories, but also creating accounts to voice their opinions on important topics.

Online platforms have become lifelines to reach customers and have allowed businesses continued prosperity. Teens have been innovative and creative by maximizing their usage of social media; they have started selling items such as clothes, accessories, candles and artwork. Through the expansion of their networks, many teens are gaining financial and social benefits for themselves and their start up companies.

Additionally, the internet has given teens a chance to promote and express more about themselves in a constructive way. “Online spaces create many exciting opportunities for youth to experiment with creativity, self-expression, and play,” said Vicki Harrison, MSW, Program Director, Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University. 

MHS Senior Sara Dedhia has created an Instagram account named @balancedbysara to present cooking and baking recipes to the community that will help people make delicious, but healthy foods. She documents making vegan and gluten free cookies, vegetarian tortilla burgers, vegan pho, veggie pizzas, yogurt parfaits, and others. 

Likewise, MHS sophomore Michelle Zhai has been determined in following her passion for lacrosse, sharing her tips, tricks, and successes on her Instagram account named @michellezhai_lax. As a ranked player, she is driven and is helping other lacrosse players in the community, even amidst the pandemic. By sharing more about their lives with one another, teens are building social connections and gaining novel ideas to improve themselves.

Even prior to the pandemic, the negative consequences of social media on teens have presented problems for this age group. Some general disadvantages include inadequate sleep, insufficient exercise, distractions from school work, little-to-no in-person interaction, and insensitive or aggressive behavior. 

In a study conducted by Nan Zhao and Guangyu Zhao, their experiment on social media use and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic was reported in the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. They tested for associations of COVID‐19‐related social media use with mental health outcomes to “uncover potential mechanisms underlying the links.” 

From their data and various analyses, it was proven that “a higher level of social media use was associated with worse mental health.” 

Hamilton, Nesi and Choukas-Bradley emphasized another perspective on the drawbacks of social media as well: the spread of misinformation and “fake news” about COVID-19 and other “high-stake” situations that may or may not be targeted at teens. These consequences could harm, injure, or hurt teens both physically and/or mentally. 

However, Dr. Coyne from the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago study has encouraged parents to “think less about the blunt measurement of screen time, and more carefully about how their children spend time on devices and what that means for their social development. 

Communication and connection have proven to be crucial aspects of life. Although the global pandemic has bereft people of face-to-face interactions, the use of technology has created great opportunities for teens to create, build, learn, and evolve themselves and others. Some teens also argue that social media has helped them through tough times and has given them the possibility to better themselves in many aspects. 

The pandemic has introduced an online world that can be used in conjunction with offline activities to ultimately assist teens who are striving to do more for a greater purpose.