Growing up in the age of social media is complex and has come with plenty of pros and cons. I’ve had more of a positive experience with social media than a negative one. However, I’ve also fallen into the toxic side of things despite trying to keep on the positive side.
Social media has helped me a lot. When I was younger I was isolated due to my physical and mental health. Social media gave me the opportunity to meet other people going through the same thing and stopped me from feeling so alone which positively impacted my mental health.
It also gave me a platform to talk about my experiences and express myself in a healthy way instead of bottling everything up. I’ve made some lifelong friends that I have met through social media, we have had similar experiences and we support each other through our mutual struggles. I don’t know how I would have coped during difficult times without them.
Social media also helped me with coming to terms with my sexuality. I’m bisexual and I started to realise I was attracted to girls in my teens but I would push those thoughts right down because school wasn’t exactly a queer positive space. However, when I started using social media being queer was more “normalised” and I saw a lot of positivity around bisexuality which helped me realise that it wasn’t a part of myself that I needed hide.
Seeing other lgbtq+ people embracing who they are and living their best lives made me feel like I could be like that too if I allowed myself to fully embrace my sexuality. Even if I had a negative response from people in real life, I knew that I would be able to find a strong sense of community online to give me support.
However, there is a toxic side of social media. Social media can give people unrealistic standards and make them feel like their life has to look a certain way. We have influencers posting photos that give us unrealistic views on life and unhealthy beauty standards and body images.
Lately I’ve found more people are obsessing over their weight and fitting into petite outfits as a result of social media and for all the positivity you can find on bigger bodies, smaller bodies are still considered more desirable and even the bigger people that we can look up to are usually airbrushed in photos and glammed up.
There’s also a lot of “diet culture” gaining traction online too and although it’s great to look after your health all this unhealthy focus on body image is breeding eating disorders.
People, especially young people, are thinking they always have to play a part on social media, that they need to show that they are having a good social life, that they look good and they are able to make funny posts and comments that get attention. We get overly focused on how many likes we get and how many followers we have when in reality, that doesn’t define our value as a person.
My advice would be to try to focus on the positives of social media and avoid the parts of it that make you feel bad. I know it’s hard because of the pressure you feel to be on social media all the time but take regular breaks where you just turn off your notifications and focus on doing something else you enjoy for a little while. Social media will still be there when you get back.
Also please remember to stay safe online, don’t give out any personal information and be wary of who you’re talking to. It’s so easy these days to find out information about others online and we sometimes let our guard down because we are so used to sharing stuff online and meeting people through social media.
I do reverse image searches on people that I don’t know just to check that their photos actually belong to them. I also don’t give out any information that can put me at risk such as my current location and if you are meeting up with someone you’ve met online, meet in a busy place and take someone with you to wait nearby just to ensure you are safe.
Social media can be a wonderful thing if it’s used correctly and can teach so many things and raise awareness on so many issues like current world events, racism, homophobia, ableism and other social issues that we may not be taught enough about in real life. Just remember to stay safe, avoid the toxic side and take well needed breaks.