By Alicia Garrigan.
In a recent article in the Derry Journal the writer, Tiarnan McCarthy, describes coming across a tweet coming from an account titled ‘Worthless’. “If I ever ran away from home, I’m sure my family wouldn’t even notice”, it lamented. He notes that similar despair is “not in short supply”. He goes on: “After around ten minutes or so of Twitter surfing I came across another account from a girl who was “…so tempted to cut, but it’d be over the cuts from yesterday”. So she decided to “just live with the pain”. Another account, disturbingly contained the line, “…loves seeing blood drip down her legs”. And what shocked me even more were the accompanying images. Bleeding and scarred arms, collections of razors and even instructions on self-harm.
Nine out of ten teenagers use social networks and over 57% of those have a Facebook profile. When I was younger social networks were not even a thought in kids’ heads until the age of 12 (13 being the legal age limit to sign up). But now children as young as nine seem to be getting profiles.
I’m 15 years old now and social media are a massive part of my life as they are for nearly all my peers. From the minute we wake up in the morning to the minute we go to sleep we are using at least one social networking site. Popular social media sites include: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinetrest and the infamous Snapchat.
A central part of the Facebook ritual is writing ‘statuses’ sharing with the world your views and opinions on certain topics, but then you find yourself anxious when the comments flooding in with negative attacks. As a teenager, the most self-esteem destroying part of the day is scrolling through social media sites, though you always enter the process expecting the best. Some of the appeal of social media is certainly harmlessly catching up on people’s lives and liking (or not) the photos and content they have shared with the world, but it’s also part of the kick that you find yourself judging everything you see. And being judged.
You innocently upload a well-edited photo onto Instagram but wonder why it isn’t getting many likes, but rather rude comments. Threats, personalised hate pages and casual abuse by rumour are the currency of teenage social media. Soon you start to take it personally, to feel like you are in the wrong. Worse still, in dealing with this, you start to wonder if you are good enough and may even find yourself reacting in depression to the nastiness. Being yourself online is laughed at nowadays and originality is rare. Your values come under threat and you find you are contradicting yourself to pacify the mob. Teenagers are so busy on their phones and computers they don’t have time to dwell on all this or on the repercussions of their behaviour on social media. According to Facebook, 55% of teens have given out personal info to someone they don’t know, including photos and physical descriptions, 29% of teens have posted mean info, embarrassing photos or spread rumours about someone and 24% have had private or embarrassing info made public without their permission.
Sometimes I wonder why we bother committing ourselves online to the public but, adults and teenagers alike, we enjoy the addictive adrenalin rush of checking people’s response to our views, be it by email or on Facebook. And having the public profile has become the norm.
Most people vilify cyberbullying as the main cause of depression amongst teenagers. From the knowledge I have about depression for teenagers, the main cause isn’t cyberbullying, it is in fact the way the media promotes vacant self image. Society and the media portray “perfect” as skinny, tall with flawless skin and silky hair. In fact the majority of the population aren’t supermodels and teenagers seem to lack this knowledge. You find yourself constantly wondering why you aren’t as pretty or as popular as the person you are looking at online, being influenced by strangers’ “perfect” flat stomachs and wishing you looked like them.
The problem isn’t the medium, it is the message. Many teenagers have been brought up to be confident in their views, and ambitious in their expectations. It is not surprising that they aspire to whatever the all-knowing media is telling them they should be even if their parents convey other messages. Teenagers are not adults and the underlying confidence they have built up over childhood can be easily knocked, and values learnt from home or school distorted. And of course it is part of being a teenager to care what people think about us. Or even appear to think!
All we want to be is accepted but social media make it so hard because most people don’t realise the effect the content they are posing online has on other people. Self-harm is one part of the problem, but lost esteem, originality and independence may be far more pervasive. And the education we receive from parents and in school, in parallel to this extra-curricular reality, does nothing to equip us to deal with it. •