Recent guidance by the APA and the U.S. Surgeon General makes it clear that social media has the potential for significant negative impacts, especially for adolescents. As people of faith, what can we do?
In the early years of Facebook, I was a big fan. “Does anybody know a good plumber?” I had eight helpful suggestions with useful reviews from people I trust within minutes. “Is pet insurance worth the cost?” I had detailed analyses of the pros and cons almost immediately.
And one time social media even rescued me from abandonment. The key to my car had broken off in the lock, so I couldn’t open the door. I called my husband, but he was not available. So, I took my dilemma to Facebook: “Anybody downtown right now and able to give me a ride?” My sister-in-law saw the post right away, called her husband who worked close by, and Shazam! I had a ride home within 15 minutes.
These days, I’m not on Facebook – or any social media – that much anymore. Now it’s usually just when I’m stuck in the passenger seat on a long drive or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I got tired of tedious updates and endless “look how great my life is” photos. Fine, I’m jealous. Sue me.
Also, I started to resent feeling required to check social media to know what’s going on in the lives of people I care about. I concluded that if I’m not important enough for someone to share news with me individually, then that news isn’t anything I need to know about.
The New Normal
But it’s a very different story for today’s teenagers. Earlier this week, the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an advisory document called, Social Media and Youth Mental Health. It begins by identifying potential benefits, like the ability of teens to experience “positive community and connection with others who share identities, abilities, and interests” (6). But from there it sounds the alarm on the potential negative effects of social media.
- Teens who spend over three hours per day on social media have double the risk of depression and anxiety than those who don’t (6).
- Girls may be even more at risk of “health outcomes like cyberbullying-related depression, body image and disordered eating behaviors, and poor sleep quality linked to social media use” (7). 46% of teen girls reported that social media made them feel worse about their bodies (8).
- A full 75% of teens say that social media companies don’t do enough to address cyber-bullying and predatory behaviors online (9).
The report goes on to discuss the gaps in evidence and the need for further study as well as suggestions for parents, policy makers, tech companies, and researchers. Certainly, the Surgeon General isn’t the only one speaking out. Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association put out its own Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescents.
The Spirituality of the Digitally Displaced
While all this is helpful, as a person of faith, I have to believe that the negative effects of excessive social media use among teens aren’t just physical, psychological, and social. They are spiritual too.
I believe that everything, on some level, is really all one thing. So, anything that separates or divides, anything that pits “us” against “them,” runs counter to our true nature. Put another way, anything that divides separates uf from God. The recommendations from the Surgeon General and the APA are very helpful, but we need strategies to heal spiritually as well.
The best remedy I’ve found are the #Rules_of_Engagement for social media developed by Ann Garrido. She explains, “As Christians we are called to be like leaven in the world, including the world of social media. Though we might feel small and insignificant…how we individually show up in this space has the power to be transformative.” Amen, sister.
Engaging in Healthy Ways
Her book by the same name explains what she calls the “eight Christian habits for being good and doing good online.” They include specific commitments to intentionality, prudence, fact-checking, and examination of biases. Additionally, they prioritize upholding the dignity of all, honoring the sacredness of human connection, and remembering that there is a human person behind every post.
In my opinion, they are the best path forward, not only in support of adolescents’ – and our own – physical and psychological health but also our spiritual well-being. She invites everyone to take the pledge.
I have. Will you?