Sunday, February 7, 2016

Social Media and Depression

Ok.  So.

University of Houston social-psychology researcher Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers studies the psychological effects of Facebook. 

Thank goodness someone is doing that work.  Right?  Because it's a big thing, this social-media stuff.  It's a lot of emotional stuff to manage.  And it requires a deep understanding of what social media really is:  for many people, it's a self-branding tool.  People only share the very best, brightest parts of their lives.  They don't talk about the crap.

So using it for enjoyment, without crossing over into jealousy or depression, requires loads of self-reflection— and the ability to be honest and true.  To ourselves.  

Which is hard to do.  Even as I, myself, engage fully in social media, its big-ness overcomes me sometimes.  Especially when I think about young people, who probably don't have the skills to manage the crap that comes along with the good parts—and there are good parts— of connecting with other people through social media.

Turns out there is a reason to worry.

To summarize:  As part of her work, Nguyen Steers co-authored a study that revealed “the longer people spend on Facebook, the more likely they are to experience depressive symptoms.” They also become more jealous, because Facebook practically forces you to compare yourself to “idealized versions of your friends.”  (Real Simple, August 2015). 

Yeah.  No kidding.  Oftentimes, as I'm perusing Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I'm flabbergasted with the awesomeness of everyone else I know.  These people!  The things they do!  Their perfectness!  They go on fantastic vacations, they attend amazing parties, they bend into impossible yoga poses, and they accomplish incredible things.  While I'm sitting on the couch.  Scrolling.  

And these thoughts are from me—a purported "grown up."  With effort, I can work my way out of feeling pathetic in comparison to my online friends.  But what about young people?  My own kids?  Or the students who come into my school each day?  Can they?

I don't know.  

I hang on to the possibility that they will surprise us all; maybe growing up with social media as an ever-present thing will create some emotional calluses.  Or maybe they'll have a better grasp of the impossibility that everyone else is so happy and perfect.  Maybe they'll handle it all just fine.  Maybe it won't be a thing.  I really, really hope so.

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