Psychological Effect of Social Media on Young Minds

Several communication mechanisms among individuals have developed since the World Wide Web (WWW) was invented in the 1990s. Friends, relatives, and acquaintances can engage and connect for free regardless of their location thanks to the Computer-Mediated-Communication (CMC) technology (Rheingold 32). Youths have been addicted to online sociability as social media platforms such as Twitter, Myspace, Facebook, Instant Messaging, Instagram, and LinkedIn have improved. They have been drawn to access and use technology practically every time; the majority of them devote three-quarters of their time chatting and browsing which results to the abandonment of other roles and duties. Young children and youths text, skype, chat, and listen to songs through their iPod every time through the day. With no control on the level of social media consumption, several social and health effects can be experienced among the youths.

The “digital generation” constitutes of young people growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, a generation of young adults who are highly influenced by the use of technology. Lenhart explains that 97% of teens are internet consumers while 77% of teenagers in the U.S between the age of 15 and 17 have profiles on the online Social Networking Sites (SNS) (15). In the country, Facebook is considered the third most visited social site followed by Myspace. Facebook has over 600,000 daily users, with the total members totaling up to 200 million. Mike Zuckerberg, the CEO of the online site, once stated that “if Facebook were a country, it would be the fifth populated in the world” (33). With majority of the social media users being under the age of 18, it is more likely that students are greatly influenced by the online culture. As such, school counsellors can professionally benefit from the understanding of the implications of social media on the wellbeing of young minds.

Teenagers and youths use social media sites for different purposes including entertainment, self-expression, and socialization. These sites act as means of promoting communication and avoidance of boredom. Other youths use these sites to maintain their social capital and long-distant relationships. Many reports demonize the use social media by associating it with various psychological and cognitive impacts. Many studies have put emphasis on the benefits of the online interaction of communication, less emphasis, however, have been put on the possible impact of social media on the student performance and development. It is, thus, important to consider the possible impacts among the students. As such, the goal of the research is to analyze the existing research in order to reveal the impact of social media on the psychological development of young minds. Administrators and school counsellors can greatly benefit from this study in which they would use to develop a technology policy, guidance plan, and an intervention plan targeting the increased wellbeing of students.

Positive psychological impacts of social Media

Overall, the use of social media by the young generation is associated with benefits for health and development. According to Ito et al., most teens use these social network sites to extend to friends and family from different social areas of their lives including sports, school, religious organizations, and other local activities (3). Unlike the old era when one would be forced to travel all the way, or look through the internet and email just to say hi to families and friends, the social media platforms require only seconds to text someone or calls them to know how they are doing. According to Tidwell and Walther, Facebook, Skype, and Instant Messaging have made it easy to connect with others (321). Students can easily connect with others to meet for discussion groups as friends also connect and discuss social issues affecting them through the sites. Almost 99% of the United States population, including children, connects with their loved ones and friend every single hour due to the current technology (Tidwell and Walther 322).

Social media sites have also been linked to increased confidence among shy individuals in revealing information that are important to institutions. Sites like IM or Skype hinders the direct conversation between one person and another. Most people find it difficult to share private information on face-to-face interaction. Through social media, there is a comfortable atmosphere created to open up to other people. According to Isaac, direct contact deters people from giving out details (422). A research conducted regarding information on people who are transgender in the United States showed that the best way to collect data from the respondents is through social media and email. All those who were asked one-on-one shied away to answer questions that were asked. This is due to the fact that the respondents cannot get comfortable sharing such information in an open interview. McKenna and Bargh also claimed that social networking sites can allow teens to find online support that may not be present in traditional relationship, especially marginalized groups such as gays, transgender and lesbian (LGBT) teens, people with physical disabilities, and those living with illness (435). It is, therefore, important to acknowledge the benefit of media on collecting information.

Negative psychological effects of social media

While social media is an integral part of young children and teens’ daily life, there are various risks associated with the media use. This is specifically including decline in interpersonal skills, cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate media content, hindrance to mental health, and internet addiction.

Decline in cognitive and interpersonal skills

Social media has created an evident change in people’s communication styles. Due to limited direct communication, gadgets like phones or computer programmes such as Skype weaken social communication and the way people converse. It is ethical that one listens to the other person conveying a message; however, this is not the case with media communication, one can still do other chores or tasks ad converse. Social media, therefore, makes one forget when to give his full attention or multitask which promotes poor listening skills. According to Rheingold, may students currently cannot pay attention in class; they get busy with their phones and tablets (34). This lack of concentration has effects on education performance. The use of social media has also created an addiction of slang and shortened words. Twitter, for instance, only has a chance for 140 characters per message (Valkenburg and Peter 43). This means that those involved in chatting must shorten their works to convey more. For instance, you is written as u, your—ur, okay—ok, please—pliiiz, and thank you—thnks. It has also promoted the use of slang such a LOL (Laugh out loud), TY (Thank you), and BTW (by the way). Students have been confused in the process of mixing social media with social life (Bessiere et al. 55). They cannot write good grammar or English. Many teachers have blamed the English poor performance on social media.

Children and youths spend most of their time in social media creating friends and chatting. As they focus on online conversation without minding gestures or signs of language, they find the challenge to address a real congregation or have face-to-face chats (Valkenburg and Peter 44). With the favored talks in which youths indulge in specific language and subjects, specific societal values are misconstrued as one does not get to learn what is expected of them from the friends they interact with. For instance, youths will always discuss school issues, music, socialites, and other social issues apart from matters pertaining culture, decent dressing, and how to relate to adults. A related concern is the decrease in face-to-face social skills that weakens interpersonal skills. Valkenburg and Peter claimed that students replace their social relationships with weaker friendships via the internet, a concept they referred to as “displacement hypothesis” (46). As youths and children pay more attention to media platforms, they forget to mingle with others on a personal level.


With the rising access to the social media, especially the internet, there has been an increase in cyber bullying (Chen 4). The suspects of this crime have been targeting sexuality, friendship, and physical attraction of the victims. Other victims have felt threatened that they are distorted physically by the harassments they get. This has caused both psychological and emotional damage to many youths who cannot attend classes or go to public or social places. It has also resulted to increase in suicide cases for the victims that can never report their cases. According to Wartella and Jennings, the increase in social media has also resulted into existing games that can affect children and youths (37). The two authors believe that online games such as wrestling and other violent games have made children to behave the same way towards others. Violence in schools, especially gun cases, has been on the rise due to exposure of students to such environment where people handle guns in games and online movies.

The most common form of cyberbullying include insults or name-calling which majorly occurs through IM. The victims suffer from emotional distress when they receive humiliating, harassing, and threatening messages. In California, over 23% of teens suffer from bullying; this has been associated with high depression and anxiety levels among the victims (Wartella and Jenning 38). Blumenfeld and Cooper adds that those who are most at risk of cyberbullying including LGBT and young people who openly support the minority group (115). According to Wartella and Jennings, most of individuals who suffer from bullying via social media are also bullied in schools and at home. Since majority of cyberbullying victims are aware of their perpetrators, it is difficult to control the problem using a monitoring software. Teachers and counsellors aware of students bullied at school should encourage the children to keep off IM and other bullying sites.

Increased psychological health risks

The phones and other gadgets that youths use to access social media have various health impacts if used for long. Henry has also expressed that youths are taking the media to the next level. She explains that students always text while parents are sleeping at night, while in class, restaurants, and while they cross roads (19). Apart from destruction, phones have increased health issues such as lack of sleep and hurting of thumbs as they text every minute. As they also get glued to the screens of these gadgets, some of the youths and children develop eye problems. Rosin pitied parents who addicted their children with online games. In her article, "The touch-screen generation,” she explained the influence of social media on children as young as 2 years old (2). She recognized that the games children currently play have changed from the physical to online games. According to Moody, the common games played are Puzzingo and Knock Knock Family that most parents feel they cannot do without (395). The effect of this addiction is the lack of knowledge to handle social life interaction and communication. In addition to this, most children are currently becoming obese because they do not engage in physical activities.

Social media can also increase the loneliness and depression of people. Many youths put all their concentration on their gadgets to chat with friends or play games. Some search the internet for “nothing important” just to keep them busy. Since they get separated from others, they feel lonely; some may develop depression. Jacobsen and Forste admit that through their research conducted among high school students, it was clear that 90% of them participated in “non-social” from which 75% of them suffered depression (275). Depression has are vast, ranging from heart diseases to increased chances of suicide. Many researchers have revealed that internet use is linked to loneliness. In a study involving undergraduate students, Moody explained that relationships via media are not intimate, thus, causing loneliness (396). Same study, however, shows that media decreases social loneliness and youths felt more connected to their society.

A “poor get poorer” model by Bessiere et al. indicate that introverts get lonelier because of internet communication while internet addicts get more stressed (54). The research revealed that increase in loneliness and stress is linked to spending more time on social media while limiting time in stress-reducing activities such as games and touring. The model has been criticized by different researchers who believe there is no association between internet connection and loneliness. Moody stated that students who are introverts or suffer from social anxiety would always prefer internet communication as it gives them more control (400).

Social media can also inhibit of cognitive growth in children. Play is a basic need for a child just like food and clothing. Involving a child in playful activities enables him/her to get full 4 staged cognitive development (Isaac 422). The main stages are: sensory motor pre-occupational, operational and formal operational stages. Each stage is an advancement of a child’s working brain; it is, therefore, important that the child play with others in order to develop fully. Phones and gadget have replaced children’s physical games; they can no longer play with other children since they believe the gadgets are enough company.

Increased Aggressive Behavior

A major psychological impact social media among young minds is increased aggression. Huesmann and Malamuth deduce that there is a relationship between social media and child or adult aggression (4). One of the various tests that have been done by researchers included monitoring the behavior of children at the age of 8 till their age of 30 (Huesmann and Malamuth 5). From observations, it was concluded that children who are exposed to media violence become serious criminals or violent individual who abuse their marital partners physically. According to Ito et al, there are variables that influence the cumulative and immediate effect of social media on children (4). These include Intellectual achievement, Identification with different TV characters, beliefs in realism, fantasizing about aggression, and social popularity (Ito 5). Children with poor intellectual achievement mostly tend to identify themselves with violence due to frustrations. They will, therefore, conceptualize violent cues easily compared to other kids. Violent children are less popular among other children; this makes them indulge in violent activities or do more watching that can cause harm. If a child identifies himself or herself with a movie star, there are high chances they will want to behave like the star. This directly impacts their behaviors depending on the character’s actions.

McKenna and Bargh also illustrate the effect of social media on aggression through the social-learning theory. This communication theory illustrates how the information obtained from media translates to changing the behavior of individuals later on (434). This model has 4 main stages: acquisition and encoding phase, rehearsal phase, maintenance phase, and retrieval and emission stage. In the first stage, a person acquires scripts from the violet scenes watched (McKenna and Bargh 435; Huesmann and Malamuth 5). These are represented internally in the person’s brain and thoughts. In rehearsals, the person repeatedly watches the similar scripts which then stick into the brain. During maintenance, the repeated conceptions of similar scripts enable a person to continuously save and maintain the same script of violence. In the last stage, which is Retrieval and emission, a person manifests all the scripts through actual behavior.

According to Krahé, Busching, and Möller, the social learning theory is true and that the effects of violent media show on the aggressiveness among adolescents in Germany (152). The authors support the theory in which they conducted a 2-year test that related media violence with teachers and students’ aggression in a class setting (Krahé, Busching and Möller 152). After the test period, there were varied results depending on different test conditions. They concluded that there was physical aggression among teachers and students who were exposed to social media violence after a 24-months period. Those who never watched violent media were never affected.

Interference with the social ties and interaction abilities

Having social ties entails strengthening the relationship between individuals through physical or emotional connections as people interact. As people have one-on-one conversation, they are able to improve their social ties with the presence of both verbal and non-verbal cues (Krahé, Busching and Möller 152). Social media, however, prevents this form of physical or emotional expressions and attachments; the barriers to communication reduces the ties and bonds that may exist between the people (Jacobsen and Forste 274). The interaction skills of youths always get hampered with the resulting addiction of social media. In an article, On Social Connection in University Life, by Sarah Henry, explores how communication platforms and gadgets can affect the ability of youths to socialize. The author narrates the story of one of her students, Michael who is always secluded from others, addicted to his iPod (Henry 18). He lacked friends, but due to fear and lack of social skills, he was unable to approach the classmates to make new friends. Just like Michael, youths have become addicted to social media that they abandon their social lives; they do not know how to form friendships or even having one-on-one conversations; this affects their social wellbeing.

Lack of concentration in the classroom setting has also been proven by Ritchel who explains that social media affects the performance of youths. In her article, Growing up digital, wired for distraction, Ritchel illustrates how many schools all over the world are currently equipped with technology and media sites for learning purposes (n.p). She further notes that most classrooms have gone digital; students are being taught with tablets, computers and iPads. Woodside High School is an example of schools allowing students to use phones and computers in class; the students end up losing total concentration as they engage in chatting and watching or reading unimportant sites (Ritchel n.p). This diversion of attention affects student performance. Walpert also confirms this argument by stating that the use of internet in classrooms will only further affect students who fail to recognize educational contents (n.p). Instead, students concentrate on video games and other social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.


The growing nature of social media and its advancement are reality of life that cannot be evaded. Amidst all the benefits people get from the media and other forms of social media, the lack of control of consumption will harm children and youths. There are countless psychological impacts that may result from the unregulated use of social media. As observed, social ties and communication abilities can be affected negatively due to the hindrance of face to face conversations. Furthermore, the use of slang can also negatively affect the performance of youths at the workplace or in schools. Several aggressive and vicious behaviors could also increase as a result of the negative contents watched or read on social media platforms. Moreover, various health conditions are also prevalent among youths in the current era where devices are used for long hours; loneliness and depression, as well as incomplete cognitive development, are also prevalent. It is, therefore, important that parents regulate their children on the content watched as well as the time taken in the use of these devices. With the increasing trends in teen pregnancy as well as increased violent incidents such as cyber bullying and poor gun use, it is essential to create awareness on the effects of the social media platforms to youths.

Social media sites are fast-growing with less research conducted on the impacts on the psychological wellbeing of young ones. There are various self-report surveys conducted regarding internet addiction and its impacts with less empirical evidence showing that the impacts even exist. More emphasis should be put on the cases of overconsumption of media, as well as the impact and disorders resulting. A key area not covered that is of great important is the impact of social media among college students. More research will help determine the frequency at will school administrators access the social media sites and influence students’ use. There is also a need to consider the impact of exposure to inappropriate content such as pornography as well as “sexting.” More research will showcase the rate of sexting among adolescents.

Works Cited

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