Harmful effects of social media on adolescents



Social media can be termed as social oriented websites that enable users to share information or purchase goods while networking. Through digitization and globalization, the world has become one village. People can now communicate very easily via message or video. This promotes commerce and brings families together. Through the invention of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, this has been taken a notch higher. Social media has its own advantages and disadvantages. Though, the most affected group is adolescents. These are the highest users of these applications due to being tech savvy. Most of these applications are actually targeting them.

Social Media can have many harmful effects on adolescents, and the sheer numbers on social media make this an important topic for study.  Adolescents are more technology savvy than many adults; it would behoove parents to become more knowledgeable about what their teens are spending their time on.  Social media can take time away from family, physical activity, and school work.  There is also much to fear on the internet/social media: sexual predators, cyberbullies, addiction, and trauma.  It is vital that parents talk to their children, and have a loving relationship long before social media is an issue. In this paper, we will discuss these harmful effects in detail, and our key focus will be on adolescents.

These effects of social media are said to destroy the development of these young teenagers. There has been many cases of depression, role confusion, lack of self-identity, impaired social interaction skills, bullying issues and materialistic habits. Psychologists have pegged these issues onto the growing use of social media.

Scope of the problem

Research was done by Pew Internet and American life project, “tracked some core Internet activities by those ages 12-17 and found:  62% of online teens get news about current events and politics online, (Beyens, Frison & Eggermont, 2016). Most adolescents actually believe that watching the news on the television is old-school. The worst part of this growth is that most of the news found in social media platforms and tabloids is actually fake news.

The most popular social media platform is Facebook, followed by WhatsApp and then Twitter. A survey conducted in November 2016 showed that 65% of the interviewed teens used Facebook daily. This was an increase from 59% usage in the year before. This is despite claims that adolescents were abandoning Facebook to another platform. Another survey conducted by the RBC Capital Markets at the same time found that teenagers were spending more time on Facebook more than before. The survey found that about a third of those interviewed had increased the time they spent on Facebook. The survey interviewed people aged from 13- to 18 years. A similar number was also found to have used Facebook for the same amount of time as the year before. A slightly small number said that they had spent less time on Facebook, the survey found. 13% of the respondents expect their usage to increase and 19% expect to spend less time accessing Facebook.

From these surveys, we can see that the consumption of social media is on the rise. There are new subscribers everyday. The current users are also increasing their consumption. This paints a dull picture for what the future holds. With increased consumption and more time spent on social media, adolescents will continue being affected by these effects unless if something radical is done.

Effects of Social Media on Adolescents

Moving to the depth of this paper, we believe that as much as social media has its own advantages it also comes with a lot of harmful effects. Adolescents that are not able to distinguish between fantasy and reality are the ones most likely to be affected. Some of the topics and issues raised in social media could look like genuine and real. However, upon scrutiny one can discover that it is a fallacy. Most adolescents are not able to distinguish this.

Adolescents are most likely not able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. The so not have the capacity to reason like adults and therefore can easily be influenced by wrong information. Adolescents are like to view TV shows and think that it is a reality and change their behaviors accordingly. These TV shows are mostly advertised and some even aired through social media.

Through this disability to distinguish what is real and what is not real, adolescent is open to so many injuries, these can either be emotional or physical. There have been reported cases where people meet online and decide to meet physically. Adolescents are easily convinced, and when they meet, some of the people they meet have been known to be pedophiles and mass murderers. We will now look at the specific harmful effects that we believe are caused by social media onto adolescents.

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

Through the use of social media, adolescents can make their own communities. These communities can sometimes be misleading. Most parents of these adolescents are not tech savvy. They, therefore, would not be able to comprehend what is happening with their child when they are in social media. This opens up so many loopholes.

Parents of tech savvy adolescents are not able to pass the much needed parental advice to their children. Communication becomes a problem since adolescents are now used to communicating amongst themselves and not with their superiors, (Kelly, 2014). This, therefore, means that these children grow up without any parental guidance. Whenever they need advice on a certain issue, they turn to their peers for advice rather that talking to their parents.

Through internal consultation, adolescents misguide each other. They are like two blind people showing each other a route. The adolescents lack experience and therefore should not be allowed to advice each other. Through social media, adolescents have become “experts” amongst their colleagues and act as the advisors of the rest. The opinion makers of a cell become the leaders whom the group consults when they need help. This disconnect between the parents and children leads to a lot of misguidances and lack of good parenting. Parents need to learn how to use social media to their advantage to try and stop this menace. Otherwise, we will have a society that is not morally upright, for lack of advice from their parents when growing up.

General wellbeing of the adolescents

There are issues that one cannot quantify that are being eroded by the increased use of social media by adolescents. One might not even realize that they exist and are pivotal to the growth of an individual. Unfortunately, the use of social media has led to lack or reduction of these activities. They include:

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Through the use of social media, adolescents don’t have to meet physically to communicate. They are virtually engaged with anybody on their contact list. They are also not able to communicate with the people close to them as they spend most of their time online.

Many adolescents have been reported not to be able to communicate fluently with people face to face. This is due to their increased use of other mediums of communication as opposed to physical communication. This has led to poor performance in interviews and the general communication with the world. Mostly adolescents will be communicating with people far away and neglect the people next to them who actually matter more.

Sexual exploitation

In the past couples would meet in public places e.g. bus stops, restaurants, movie theaters e.t.c. This has since changed with the innovation of social media. People now mostly meet online, and there have been reports of successive marriages while others have ended in disarray. Adolescents lack life experience, and when confronted with sexual matters they are most likely to be abused. Through the use of privacy settings, adolescents can block their seniors from their inner dealings. This increases their exposure to sexual exploitation.


Nowadays taking away a mobile phone or a computer of an adolescent is like sentencing them a jail term. They would be disoriented in their activities. In whatever they do a mobile phone is in their hands. This has brought about other effects on their life, including:

  1. Poor performance in their studies. Rather than spending most of the time reading adolescents are mostly communicating and watching videos on social media.
  2. Addiction to social media has led to poor health on the adolescents. Adolescents rarely do anything manual as they are always on their phones. This has increased cases of obesity and other health complications.
  3. Through addiction to social media, adolescents have fallen victim of fast food adverts that are channeled through social media. This has increased consumption of these goods leading to increasing in the health complications that come with them (Williams, 2013).

Adolescents are increasingly being attached to the hype of social media. This has led to them spending more time accessing these websites rather than doing something productive. This leads to wastage of man-hours and the subsequent repercussions that come with it especially in the future. Their bodies become weak and lazy making them unproductive.


Cyber bullying is a new phenomenon that has come with the introduction of social media. This is where a person or a group of people bully another individual online without having to meet them face to face. Cyber bullying has been on the rise such that it is blamed for certain suicides committed. When mixed with other ills such as racism, cyber bullying can really traumatize an individual.

With the nature of adolescents not being able to discriminate the truth and fallacy, cyber bullying can have adverse effects on an individual. Since cyber bullying involves people who are not physically close to each other, it makes it a very easy offense to commit. Sometimes it can be committed by an individual without them knowing that they are actually bullying the other person (Lievens, 2014). The lack of physical appearance of the individuals makes this an emotional offense (Labrague, 2014).

Adolescents who have experienced cyber-bullying have been reported to experience emotional trauma. It becomes very hard for parents to realize it due to the communication barrier that exists between the parent and the child. Adolescents have also at times resulted in physical harm due to cyber bullying. An example is when someone is bullied based on a physical feature. They at times tend to try and remove the physical feature, e.g. a black teen could try to bleach their skin after being bullied due to their color. Other adolescents share photos of their colleagues without their consent. Due to the use of the cloud, these images have to remain on the internet forever. This causes emotional discomfort from that time, till when they can deal with it.

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The use of social media is something that the society has agreed and taken as part of our livelihoods (Cookingham & Ryan, 2015). It is not possible to do away with it at this point and time. We, therefore, need to find ways to harness the opportunities that come with social media. As we harness these opportunities, we also need to find ways of containing the harmful effects of social media.

Parents have to be taken to task to ensure that they protect their children from the ills that come with social media. They need to install applications that limit the time that adolescents spend on social media. This will increase their productivity and prevent them from the harms of social media.

Parents need also to ensure that family time is made a priority. Through this, they will be able to connect with their children. With this connection in place, parents will be able to know when they children are suffering. Adolescents will also be willing to ask for advice from their parents rather than from their peers. Adolescents need also to be trained on these ills associated with social media. This can be done either in school or by parents themselves. Once these steps have been taken, many adolescents will be saved from the injuries associated with social media (Valverde, 2016).

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  1. Beyens, I., Frison, E., & Eggermont, S. (2016). I don’t want to miss a thing. Computers in Human Behavior, 1-8.
  2. Cookingham, L. M., & Ryan, G. L. (2015). The Impact of Social Media on the Sexual and Social Wellness of Adolescents. Iowa City: Elsevier Inc.
  3. Labrague, L. J. (2014). Facebook use and adolescents’ emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Health Science Jornal, 80-84.
  4. Lievens, E. (2014). Bullying and Sexting in social networks: Protecting minors from criminal acts or empowering minors to cope with risky behavior? Science Direct, 251-270.
  5. Valverde, R. (2016). School district educates parents about teen social media use, uptick in sexually explicit messages. The Lawrence Journal World, 1-3.
  6. Williams, S. D. (2013). Action needed to combat food and drink companies’ social media marketing to adolescents. Sage Journals, 1-3.
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