Olivia James: The Abuse of Social Technology is Hurting Adolescents

While social technology may not make kids inherently “crazy,” it can have an adverse affect on their mental health. Those most affected by social technology tend to be adolescents because they are the largest proponents of it. The rise of smartphones, particularly among this group, has created an opportunity for the all too common harassment happening in schools to go virtual. Said to be even more invasive and impactful than traditional bullying, researchers Mary E. Varghese and M. Carole Pistole say that cyberbullying has strong ties to depression, loneliness, and anxiety among young people. According to Helen Cowie of the University of Surrey, means of cyberbullying can include revealing personal facts and information about the victim that they didn’t want public, sending harassing or threatening messages, pretending to be someone else and sharing their information, or excluding someone from a virtual group with malicious intent. There has been a growing number of cyberbullying studies over the years as smartphones have evolved and developed into more prominent social communication tools and the primary medium through which cyberbullying occurs. Bullying that was once handled within the walls of schools now reaches beyond the authority of school officials and into the unpoliced cyberspace that is only a click, tap, or a swipe away.

Social technology has given us a great means of social connectedness, but at a price. A Reuters study showed that over 80 percent of teens are using smartphones regularly, making it the primary weapon of cyberbullies. When I was a sixteen year old high schooler, technology became so integrated in both school and social life that it was virtually impossible to go without a smartphone or a laptop as a student. When everyone has a device in which to communicate with each other on, it makes it that much easier to facilitate harassment. The face-to-face bullies so familiar to these young people now follow them home and live in their pockets with no opportunity for escape. Because there is less monitoring and supervision of social media than there is in school hallways, they are essentially left to run rampant and say what they want with no repercussions, and sometimes without ever being caught. In an Australian study conducted by Amanda Bourgeois, Julie Bower, and Annemarie Carroll, it was reported that victimization remains mostly the same from traditional bullying to cyberbullying, so most of cyberbullying victims know their bullies personally and many of them are victims of more than one kind of bullying. This not only allows an attack from a new front, but also intensifies the harassment already taking place. The access that bullies and victims alike have to this technology is something never before experienced in our society, and something we may not realize the full prevalence of danger of.

We hold an entire culture in our hands when we unlock our phones, and often struggle to keep our online and offline lives existing in harmony. This is especially true for school-aged children and adolescents. We’ve all seen the signs plastered on cinder block cafeteria walls: “Don’t let a cyberbully push your buttons!” or clever acronyms designed to remind students to practice safe internet behaviors. Alarming research is behind these catchy warnings, showing that cyberbullying is on the rise among adolescent children. The reach of these cyber bullies is vast, one Canadian study conducted by Tanya Beran, Faye Mishna, Lauren B. McInroy, and Shareen Shariff showed that one in seven of Canadian children in a group of 1,001 subjects across the country had been bullied via an electronic medium. These numbers only increase as the connection between smartphones and social technology becomes more and more of a dominant form on communication. Furthermore, an article done by CNN’s Kelly Rippy warns parents against the dangers of not only the mainstream apps that we all know and love such as Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat, but also smaller sites that aren’t quite as popular. These are just as, if not more, dangerous than the well-known social media sites because these bullies can slip under the radar of any monitoring and remain completely anonymous. This offers little consequences for the offender, and little justice or peace of mind for the victim.

The growth of cyberbullying is alarming on its own, but it is even more frightening when you take into account how much cyberbullying affects the mental health of its victims. Like traditional bullying, the effect of cyberbullying on the self-esteem, self-perception, and overall psychological well being of its victims is greatly altered. The most prevalent of these effects is the rate of depression, stemming from feelings of isolation and/or loneliness as a result of being bullied online. A study at Purdue University found that loneliness has been found to have a positive correlation with depression, either resulting from being alienated on or off the internet. To make matters worse, many adolescents who feel alienation from traditional bullying often turn to means of communication online as an escape. This only puts them at more risk for being victimized in the same way they already were but this time perhaps anonymously or in a more severe way now that the level of supervision has significantly decreased. As cyberbullying becomes more and more prevalent in society, the impact of this harassment on adolescents cannot be ignored. As social technology continues to grow as a dominant form of communication, we must remain aware that the abuse of this media can have detrimental effects on the mental health of adolescents.