Photo illustration by Crystal Diaz. Students laying in circle while using phones. (Crystal Diaz)
Photo illustration by Crystal Diaz. Students laying in circle while using phones.

Crystal Diaz

Social media turning you green?

Trends take over school 

October 18, 2021

Understanding the impact of social media can help teens navigate conflicts, nearly every teen is now involved on social media platforms. Social media stems from a desire to connect with friends and family, but as time progresses, this avenue for creating relationships has instead taken a toll on mental health  — as well as encouraging behaviors that harm the community as a whole. 

Negative, positive impacts on mental health

Last week, Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, came under fire. According to the New York Times, leaked documents exposed the problematic nature of these platforms. 

Frances Haugen, a whistleblower for Facebook testified to the senate on the detrimental impacts that social media, specifically Instagram, has on teens, Oct. 5. In her opening statement, Haugen claims that Facebook has purposely misled people. 

“The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages,” Haugen said. 

Social media such as Snapchat, Tiktok and Instagram can affect the way people view themselves and wrongfully idealize certain lifestyles and body types over others. According to junior Gwen Rockler-Gladen, the influence of social media can affect the way people act offline too.

(Social media) puts a lot of pressure on people to either look or act a certain way,” Rockler-Gladen said. “There’s a lot of trends that basically are just showing off your body and how it’s the beauty standard.”

According to Marguerite Ohrtman, a licensed clinical counselor, students can feel pressure surrounding social media because many teens use it to portray themselves.

“It is part of your identity, because your social media presence is part of who you’re putting out there for the world to see,” Ohrtman said. 

What students share about themselves may negatively affect them social media, counselor Kjirsten Hanson said. Although these devices give the ability to create communities, it can make students feel excluded just as easily.  

 I see (social media) really negatively impact (student’s) mental health in terms of both anxiety and depression,” Hanson said. “What students will report to me is that anxiety of needing to check all the time — that they might miss out.”

Many teens join social media well before they reach high school, and by the time they do, an approval seeking mindset has been instilled in them from social media, according to senior Gavin Thoe. 

“People have a need to be liked, social media is one way where people can see you without you actually being there,” Thoe said. “You’re looked at a certain way (based) on how your social media looks or is.”

Social media can also dehumanize communication, according to Hanson, when teens use social media to connect, they miss the full context of the situation.

“It’s become very impersonal. When I have to sit down with somebody one on one and have a conversation, that’s vastly different than texting or snapping or instagramming or anything like that,” Hanson said.

Despite these negative aspects, social media has had a positive effect on teens since quarantine, Rockler-Gladen said. It allowed for students to create communities and support systems in ways they would not have been able to without such forms of communication — during the pandemic, social media became the only way many teens could connect with each other.

“It’s definitely (keeps students) more connected and helps people make friends and reach out to each other especially during COVID(-19),” Rockler-Gladen said. “People have been able to talk to each other and be connected even while not being able to be together in person.” 

Not only has social media been able to benefit isolated students, schools have also utilized its power to spread helpful information. When used correctly, social media in a school community can have positive effects, Ohrtman said. 

“I see schools using (social media) now more to connect with students, like a Twitter feed (reminding students) ‘don’t forget to do this’ or ‘check in with this.’ I see there’s a lot of benefits to using social media,” Ohrtman said. “But I also think sometimes it can be negative — it’s all about how it’s handled by the students, staff and the administration, (the) rules, regulations, consequences and follow throughs … varies by school and school district.”

TikTok trend’s influence on community

On TikTok, videos of students stealing things from schools have gone viral — leading the trend to Park.  

This phenomenon is due to ‘devious licks,’ a trend that originated on TikTok which quickly spiraled out of control. Students made seemingly harmless TikToks about stealing things from school — but, according to counselor Kelsey Milne, trends like these are not all fun and games. 

“We need to look at it like this: is it helping our community? Or is this hurting our community? People want to belong; a sense of community is super important,” Milne said. “But if it’s hurting our community, I don’t think that’s who we want to be.”

According to Rockler-Gladen, TikTok has had a large influence on students. From style, to a better sense of community, they said TikTok can have some positives — such as angelic yields, the positive alternative to devious licks. 

TikTok is definitely a good platform for self-expression, a lot of TikTok stuff has been important for me because I’ve been like ´hey I can express myself.’ And also with the devious licks, people have been flipping that on its head with angelic yields,” Rockler-Gladen said. 

As a sociology teacher, Emily Rennhak has been bringing up discussions in class about this problem. According to Rennhak, social media can have a large outreach on society. 

“(Social media) comes up in sociology and discussions of how media is socializing us and teaching us to behave in a certain way,” Rennak said. “It’s teaching us expectations and norms we should or shouldn’t follow.”

One of the biggest targets of the devious licks are bathrooms. Milne said staff have been frustrated that these types of messages are given a platform, especially since soap dispensers, and other school facilities have been defaced or stolen.  

“Vandalizing bathrooms really takes a lot of resources — you end up spending money in places where you don’t necessarily want to spend money and then it has to come from somewhere,” Milne said. “Ultimately, you kind of are taking away from your fellow students, because truly, we are one community. 

Sophomore Calvin Zimmerman said he was surprised when the trend came about, and was struck with how prevalent it seemed to be at Park — for Zimmerman, it never seemed like something that would affect his school. 

“Teachers, and adults in general, are becoming more aware of how teenagers use social media. I feel like this jump on ‘devious licks’ was just them being like, ‘okay, well we got to be prepared about it,’” Zimmerman said. “As a student I was like ‘wait, people are doing this now?’ I was kind of surprised with it.” 

According to English teacher Lindsey Meyer, though social media can have good intentions, she has seen it be misused as students can quickly spread toxicity throughout the internet, with little immediate consequences. 

“Kids are being insanely creative, entrepreneurial, forward-thinking on social media and sometimes we don’t always get to see all the things they’re on social media. I feel like (social media) could be harnessed as a way for students to engage,” Meyer said. “(Although), it’s very disruptive. I worry about how fast things spread with some of these avenues.”

Pressure behind trends, setting boundaries 

The need to connect and feel included by other individuals is often the force that pushes trends such as devious licks to continue, Rennhak said. According to her, although trends may be negative, students participate in them to feel part of a community. 

“Getting likes or views and participating in a trend like (devious licks) is a type of sanction, so when people engage with the content you’re creating, that confirms to humans, ‘yes I am liked, I am part of this group,” Rennhak said.

While many trends on social media seem irrational, according to Hanson, the reasoning that drives them is not quite as complicated. 

“Research actually bears out that we all have a core need to belong. Some of those trends are about ‘I belong, I’m hip or I’m cool if I do X, Y and Z.’ There’s a lot of pressure on students to do things because they see it on (TikTok),” Hanson said. 

According to Ohrtman, the accessibility of social media makes it easier for people to use more frequently, but that convenience comes at a cost — one that many teens may not even realize. 

“The pressure (to be on social media) is there because developmentally you are still so concerned about whatever anyone else thinks, you don’t really have an abstract thinking necessarily,” Ohrtman said. “As you get older, when you’re in college, you can start to see things like ‘oh this has consequences.’ When you’re in the moment, you want a quick fix — you want to hang out and be normal (because) everyone else is doing it and so it feels good to do too.” 

The pressure social media creates is something that not only contributes to trends but also the overall atmosphere online. When hiding behind a screen, it’s easy for harmful things to occur without real life consequences. For Rennhak, the idealistic environment created has devastating effects. 

“Students can be really connected to one another, but that can also be very harmful because with such strong connections often come really strong exclusions,” Rennhak said. “Self body image and portrayal of self is so skewed on social media. Filters are always there and now they’ve gotten so subtle that you can’t quite tell when they’re there and everybody just ends up with this glossy-like magazine airbrushed look, when that just is not a reality.”

According to Rockler-Gladen, the ‘perfect’ lives that people attempt to portray on their social media creates a harmful environment for all users. 

“It makes people more insecure and less likely to be (their) self and be comfortable around each other. It puts pressure on people to behave and act certain ways,” Rockler-Gladen said. 

The amount of information and expectations thrown at social media users is overwhelming, but according to Hanson, taking time to set boundaries and limit exposure to negativity is crucial   towards easing anxiety. 

“A good strategy is time limits on your phone. Honor those times, take planned breaks where maybe you even set an alarm at a certain time (and when) the alarm goes off, you either give your phone to somebody else (or walk away),” Hanson said.    

Not only can students take actions to reduce anxiety and stress over social media, but adults in their lives can play a crucial role in education. According to Ohrtman, making sure youth understand the effects of social media, and the ways it can quickly turn negative is essential. 

“It’s all about moderation, understanding what social media is and what it can be and also what it does not need to be,” Orhtman said. “It doesn’t need to be your identity, and it doesn’t need to be all of who you are. For educators, parents, guardians and counselors, you need to have conversations with teens.” 

Although it may feel impossible to not constantly be tethered to our electronics, for Zimmerman, taking breaks for self care is key to limiting the stress of social media and creating healthy boundaries.

  “Just clear your mind of it, go out, hang out with friends and surround yourself with what makes you happy besides just a screen,” Zimmerman said. “Sometimes that means deleting an app or staying away from it for one day.” 

 

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