Friday, June 02, 2023

Snapchat’s Effect on Our Teens’ Mental Health

Co-authored by Joshua Miller

Parents are more concerned than ever about their children’s mental health. Studies show that social media use has a strong effect on our teens’ daily emotions and behavior. Rather than write yet another article lamenting teens’ social media usage, I invited my nineteen-year-old son, Joshua, to co-author this Jews in the Digital Age column with me to ensure it includes perspectives from both a parent and a teen. 

Parents of teens are familiar with and use social network applications like Facebook and Instagram. They have also, in recent years, begun to use TikTok, the popular video application. However, Snapchat is different since most parents do not use it and are generally unaware of their teens’ activity on the platform.

Snapchat’s own annual reports explain that it is used primarily by high school and college students. The mobile application allows users to share photos, videos, and messages. As of February 2023, Snapchat has approximately 750 million monthly active users, 63% of which use the application regularly, and more than three billion snaps are created and exchanged each day.

Snapchat causes negative mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, in high school and college students, making it an activity that should be high on the concern list of parents, teachers and mental health professionals. There exists a worldwide mental health crisis among teens and college students, and the use of Snapchat is prevalent among this age demographic. Studies have been conducted to show a causal relationship between Snapchat use and this mental health crisis.

Many teens will be enjoying a fun experience with family or friends, and then experience a sudden mood swing upon opening the Snapchat application on their phone. The phone screen will display photos of their friends' activities, who they’re with, and where they are currently located using Snapchat’s “Snap Map” GPS (global positioning system) feature. The teen who seemed to be happy and content is now feeling lonely, anxious and depressed thanks to the “fear of missing out.” Commonly known by the acronym “FOMO,” Snapchat contributes to this fear by making it appear that others in the teen’s peer group are enjoying life more. The teen often feels that they have not been invited or included in a competing activity even though they were satisfied with their situation prior to looking at the “Snap Map.” Seeing what others are posting on Snapchat, the teen loses focus and cannot be present with the people they are actually with in real life (“IRL”).

Teens feel that Snapchat is necessary to have on their mobile devices because it is one of the most popular forms of communication for this age demographic. Many young people prefer communicating quickly through Snapchat over text messaging, phone calls or video chatting apps like FaceTime. Snapchat messaging has become the norm for young people making the app essential to their daily lives. A teen who removes the app from their phone over concerns that it leads to increased FOMO, and thus anxiety and depression, soon find that they are not able to stay in contact with their friend group because their peers are using Snapchat to communicate and make social plans. Thus, it is a vicious cycle.

In a Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry article titled “Patterns of Social Media Use Among Adolescents Who Are Psychiatrically Hospitalized,” experts explain that adolescents’ use of Snapchat “has critical implications for youths’ psychosocial development. Research increasingly supports a differential susceptibility model of media effects, whereby certain adolescents show an increased risk for negative effects of social media use. In addition, youth with suicidal thoughts or behaviors are more likely to experience cyber victimization and may be at risk for exposure to suicide-related social media content.” 

Teens are still developing important psychological aspects of their being and persona. Many young people desperately want others to believe their life is wonderful so they post photos and videos to Snapchat to cause jealousy among their peer group. Studies show that Snapchat users very infrequently post photos and videos when they are depressed or sitting alone without friends around. They tend to only post when they are at social gatherings, on fun vacations, or generally enjoying “the good life.” This is not an accurate expression of their actual life and experiences, but it is a fabrication only showing what they want others to see. This causes envy and animosity among Snapchat users. According to Melissa Magner, in her article about social media’s negative implications on teens’ mental health, “It is important to understand that social comparison is especially prominent in the lives of young people who are simultaneously developing their ideas about who they are and where they fit in amongst their peers.”

While clinical depression and anxiety have plagued humans since the beginning of time, we are currently seeing a mental health crisis among teens, who use Snapchat regularly. What can be done to curb these negative mental health effects? Snap (the parent company of Snapchat) is a publicly traded company. It has a moral responsibility to ensure its product is safe for its users, the majority of whom are impressionable teens. Snapchat should remove its “Snap Map” feature that shows where one's connections are located using GPS as this would help minimize the FOMO feelings among Snapchat users. Additionally, Snapchat should limit the number of connections a user has. This would keep users from seeing what people outside of their core friend group are doing.

Snapchat must make changes immediately to its platform. Likewise, parents must do more to understand how Snapchat works and the detrimental effects it has on this highly impressionable generation. Users of Snapchat, especially adolescents, must seek to change the way they use the app. They should try to limit content that will cause others to feel left out, which leads to depression and sometimes suicidal tendencies.

They should attempt to show more realistic portrayals of their activities rather than sugarcoating their experiences of filtering reality. We all must work together to ensure the social media experience of our teen generation is a positive one. Their mental health depends on it and the future of our society is at stake.

Rabbi Jason Miller is a local educator and technology entrepreneur, who writes the Jews in the Digital Age column for the Jewish News.

Joshua Miller will begin his sophomore year at Michigan State University in the Fall. He is a Media and Information major in the College of Communication, Arts and Science.

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