Sammy Hallal | Torrey Pines High School Senior
Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, or older sites like MySpace and LinkedIn, social media platforms have changed the way we communicate. Rather than face to face, people now communicate from screen to screen, especially considering that 81% of Americans have a social media profile, with people ages 16 to 24 spending the most time online, according to Statista.
Although social media use is not exclusive to teenagers, to some outside of our age group it may seem like we are all obsessed with our phones and stuck in a bubble, and this is not necessarily the case. Social media sites have given us a new way to keep in touch with friends, expand social circles and express ourselves.
“I use Instagram and Snapchat pretty often, maybe a little too often,” Ali, a student at Francis Parker School said. “Still, I think it’s a great way to see what all my peers are up to as well as share some of my own personal experiences.”
Many of my friends even have multiple accounts on one social media platform, particularly on Instagram. One account is for a wider audience, where people post more generic posts, while the other is for their closest friends. On the second account, teens share a less filtered and more realistic version of their lives.
“The problem with online profiles like Instagram is that what you see isn’t an accurate representation of [the users’] actual lives,” said John, a student at Cathedral Catholic High School. “They focus on trying to look cool to all of their followers and it’s basically just a competition to see who has the best life.”
When people post pictures that make their life seem much more glamorous than it actually is, it often leads to jealousy between peers, which just gets teens caught in a feedback loop of posting and sharing images that will get them the most likes and not what is real. In a study at University of California, Los Angeles, researchers monitored the brains of teenagers while they used an app resembling Instagram. The team found that each time a student received a like or a comment it activated four regions of the brain, especially its reward center.
“A few weeks ago I decided to take a weeklong break from all social media because I started to think I might be addicted,” Kirsten, a student at Torrey Pines High School, said. “It wasn’t until then that I realized the amount of social media that I use… and I’m happy I did it.”
Just like in the real world, people often search for ways to make their life appear more glamorous than it actually is, and social media makes this very easy. The owner of a profile has complete control over what to post, and can therefore paint whatever picture he or she wants, no matter how far off the truth it is. The challenge faced by teenagers, including myself, is to find a balance between our real lives and our online ones.