Youth Perspective: The Other Mirror

This month, our youth guest writer is 10th grade student Aspen van der Hoeven from the International School of Amsterdam in the Netherlands discussing social media and teens.


For many teens, social media is a part of their everyday life. In fact, 51% of teens visit social media sites daily whereas 11% send or receive tweets at least once a day. Also, roughly 40% of teens visit their main social media site several times a day, while one in four teens is a “heavy” social media user, which means that they use two or more types of social media daily and/or regularly throughout the day.


Over the last year, I have been working on my personal project for the International Baccalaureate curriculum. I chose to focus on how social media affects people, especially teenagers. The inspiration for my topic came from years of personal experience on social media and what I have heard from (and observed with) peers about the effects of social media on their lives and self-image.


During this research process, I was able to educate myself about the countless effects of social media both on young people and more generally. I was able to learn more about the mental, physical, and emotional effects of social media; the psychological reasons behind why we as humans compare ourselves to others; how social media fuels the demand for plastic surgery; what people find so irresistibly attractive about celebrities; and much more. It is well known that social media platforms can often lead to depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem and loneliness which, in turn, can lead to anorexia, bulimia, suicide, and many other things.


It also should come as no surprise that there is an immense amount of pressure for teens to be available on social media 24/7. A report by Common Sense Media found that 75% of American teenagers have social media profiles. For many teens, social media obsession can even become addicting. Research has found that “likes” on social media activates part of the teenage brain which causes them to want to use social media more. This part of the brain that reacts to the likes is the same region that responds when we see pictures of people that we love or when we win money.


The real question is, however, how much can parents realistically control - and will regulations and restrictions be effective in driving teens’ behavior? Personally, both from experience in my own life and what I see from my peers, most parental restriction doesn’t only make social media even more attractive for the child but also could even add to the addiction. However, I do believe that parents should be involved in their kids’ online activity. My parents have their own social media profiles that gives them access to see whatever I post, and it has motivated me to only post PG rated content. There is a lot to consider when it comes to social media and teens!


Editor’s Note: This may be a good time to have a chat with your teen about social media, its effects, and how you can balance monitoring with autonomy. For more social media resources, check out Dr Michael Rich's site "Ask the Mediatrician", Dr David Reitman and Marc Groman's podcast series “Our Own Devices” , Allison Och’s recent book Would I Have Sexted in the 80’s?”  or Common Sense Media.