Expository Article: Influences of Social Media on Adolescents’ Social Behaviors in the U.S.

By YiNuo (Coco) Lei.

Expository Article: Social Science

As the wave of technology rises, the status of social media in this world has become more and more notable. Until 2020, about 240 million (72.3%) Americans are on social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram (Tanir, 2022). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic which swept over the world in 2020, the use of social platforms has increased tremendously. People are reliant on social media to stay connected with friends and families, especially during this period of time. Even before the pandemic, the trend of sharing photos and videos has been rising. Adolescents who are eager to stay “in” with popular trends quickly joined several social media just to prevent being listed as “others” (Pellathy, 2021). For example, more than half of U.S. adolescents have been using Facebook in 2018, and 45% reported constant access to social platforms (Anderson & Jiang, 2018). Nowadays, the adolescents are following all kinds of trends on social media, regardless of the results they bring. Social media also allows people to freely express their feelings without the necessity of letting people know who they are. Adolescents online can be exposed to a wide-ranged of opinions, including compliments and criticisms. Social behavior, defined as the interactions between two or more individuals, is affecting the individual from both online and offline. Social behaviors cover many perspectives, the ones that this paper will mainly talk about are inclusion, conformity, communication, and cooperation. This paper will discuss adolescents’ actions and behaviors that changed due to the influences of social media. Many believed that social media propels socialization and communication between individuals, allowing them to share photos and videos to friends online, contact family whenever

they want. Social media, exemplifies a successful social trend, create opportunities for people to stay socially active both online and offline. More than 65% of adolescents in a study reported that browsing through social medias make them feel more confident about themselves, and 58% of them reported that social platforms made them feel closer to another (Lenhart et al, 2011). Study from the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that social media leads adolescents to engage in community and social activities. Moreover, many adolescents get in touch with the diversity of the world by going on social platforms, which also expose them to new perspectives (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). The original intentions of social media were to build connections and create a platform for opinions to be expressed. Most of the social medias still stick with this motivation and provide a place where friends can mingle. Among all the adolescents on social medias, about 94% of them chat with friends and interact with people online (Lenhart, 2015). Not only it collects ideas and new perspectives, social media also brings people that have similar interests together. Communications between like-minded people positively promotes one’s individuality, boost their characteristics and allow individuals to be themselves around others. Moreover, for many adolescents in school, social medias are used to complete schoolwork and have academic conversations. Social platforms are effective tools for group collaboration, they engage adolescents in group activities, and ensure participations even when they are at home. Adolescents got even more reliant on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic with social distancing and disruption of the normal school life. Not only the social interactions between individuals, but we can also expand on our landscape to the whole adolescence society with influences on social groups. The support and comfort from the internet could also impact adolescents, this includes friends, family, and

broader social network. Adolescents going through a rough time receiving kindness from social platforms have been more and more common, about 68% of teens reported that they got support from social medias when they were going through tough times. Those connections and communications support the adolescents themselves as well as encourage them to help others when they are in need (Lenhart, 2015). Focusing on how trends are formed on social media and passed to the adolescent population, considering that trends exist because of the modification one has done to their previous social behavior in order to stay “in” with everybody. Positive trends may lead to a positive behavior when adolescents follow it. For instance, in an article discussing how trends in the fashion world were formed, a girl talked about how she is making videos that have popular topics. After the ultra-fast fashion trend of buying cheap and abundant clothes slowly declines, she soon followed up with the new trend of styling clothes that she has and turned her eyes to new trends like “secondhand clothing and thrifting.” (Monroe, 2021). The trend in this specific example reinforces people’s awareness of environmental protection, and like other positive trends, helps adolescents to carry out more positive behaviors, which help them to be a responsible citizen. Despite the benefits, there are drawbacks that should be included in this discussion. Through years of development on social media, trends have emersed all aspects of life for adolescents. Adolescents gradually develop an apprehension known as FOMO, short for “Fear of Missing Out”. That is, when an individual sees people around them acting out certain actions that may have seem popular at the moment, with the belief that they need to do it too because

everyone else is doing it (Alutaybi et al, 2020). Due to this social angst, adolescents are more likely to carry out behaviors and actions just to stay connected and drift with the current. Industries use social platforms as a tool to sell themselves, adolescents that follow trends and tend to participate in anything they saw online that many people are doing. Many industries use young people’s fear of missing out as a method to persuade more people to purchase their products. For instance, a girl named Tricia engaged herself in the latest trends, which includes sharing selfies on Instagram, making unboxing and bedroom fashion show videos on YouTube. She claimed that she bought an excess amount of clothing, most were made cheap to increase the amount made but using the same money. Tricia only wore them when she made videos, and most of them were only wore once. In the article, the author stressed how those trends promoted on social media condition us to believe that “our cloths should be cheap, abundant, and new.” As a result, adolescents’ behaviors were modified and lean towards what the public is fond of (Monroe, 2021). In addition, the fear of missing out were found to disrupt an individual’s feelings, many having feelings like “dissatisfaction, anxiety, and unworthiness” to arise (Bloemen & De Coninck, 2020). With early development of their cognition to the world, adolescents are susceptible and could be easily manipulated in mind. Data shows that the number of adolescences’ risky behavior has been growing throughout the years, which includes underage drinking, driving, and sex. Adolescents decide whether if they act out the behaviors shown on social medias based on the popularity of it. With experiment done, results show how adolescents tend to be more sensitive to peer approval compared to adults, their sensitivity to peer attitudes drives them to conform to their peers in social behaviors (Hillen, 2015).

A variety of social medias demonstrate and include contents of risky behaviors may lead to an adolescent’s false belief in the commonness of those behaviors (Hillen, 2015). Adolescents tend to seek peer approval from the internet and outside the internet. The entanglement of both aspects changes the way adolescents behave socially (Hillen, 2015). Despite how schools emphasize the importance of acknowledgement of drug use, the number of overdose death recorded in 2013 increased four times compared to the number recorded in 1999 (Hillen. 2015). Additionally, social medias like TikTok limits individuality, considering how everyone is exposed to the same pool of data, without having their own knowledge base. As trends on social media start prevailing, more people conform toward a single type of expression, for example a specific music or dance (Pellathy, 2021). This creates a sense of synchrony among adolescents, study discusses about the trade-offs of synchrony, pointing out that synchrony has negative effects on creativity and discourage minority perspectives (Gelfand et al, 2020). The adolescents’ brains need to be nurtured and grow into the source of creativity and innovation rather than others’ opinions. Information on social platform, could also harm adolescents in many ways, with social media becoming inseparable with our lives, cyberbullying became a popular topic that has been discussed. 88% of adolescents participating in a study claimed that they have seen some form of cruelty on social medias, and comparing data reported by adults, adolescents tend to see more information that are cruel and mean on the internet (Lenhart et al, 2011). Beyond cruel and mean behaviors on social media, cyberbullying has always been an existing problem since the start of social media. More than 59% of American teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying, including name-calling, spreading rumors, harassment, etc (Anderson & Jiang, 2018). Adolescents are excessively sensitive to information;

cyberbullying increases the risks for depression, anxiety, and suicide. The consequences cyberbullying brings is harmful to individual and society, report shows that “12 of 15 school shooters studied from the 1990s had been bullied.” (n.a., 2020). Furthermore, cyberbullying could lead to less friendship, more emotional and peer relationship problems. Due to depression and other negative influence that cyberbullying cause, studies found that there’s a positive relationship between cyberbullying and suicidality. The anonymity on social medias is a major difference of cyberbullying compared to normal form of bullying. It is also for this aspect; victims may feel loss of hope during the process where they are being victimized (Nixon, 2014). The influences that social media brings to adolescents’ social behaviors include both positive and negative aspects. We should emphasize the benefits it brings in connections, communications, and socializations among adolescents, as well as recognizing how social medias provide information that would negatively influence adolescents; by acknowledging the existing problems, we can limit the harm it brings to adolescents’ social behaviors. To the American society, more specifically the adolescent population, social media has become and remains an inevitable part of their lives. So much as the past research were focusing on the negative impacts social medias have brought to the adolescents, one should also investigate the positive aspects of using social media so that the society has more balanced and objective opinions on social media. As this article pointed out, the social media can facilitate adolescents’ social behaviors through increased interactions with friends and family, expanding one’s social circle beyond their physical environment. Moreover, it helps maintain relationships with convenience, and sustain normal social interactions during the pandemic. One should enjoy the benefits that technology brings, using its advantages at the most.

However, policy makers, the society, educators, and parents should also provide adequate digital literacy to ensure the adolescents are aware of how to use social media properly. Adolescents should get enough support to avoid the pitfalls of the abusive use of social media. Adolescence is a transitional period from childhood to adulthood, they are psychologically fluid and vulnerable, their social behavior will define their social life in the adulthood, thus, factors like social media that brings great influences should be managed carefully.

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