Group of Teens on Cellphone

Study Claims Social Media Harms Teens’ Health by Interrupting Positive Activities

There’s no question that frequent social media use has become a virtual cultural necessity, especially among young people. Social networks that were for millennia supported by face-to-face interpersonal relationships now exist mostly online, and such a drastic shift has raised concerns about how social media use impacts mental health. The science on this subject is far from settled; while some studies show that social media can actually improve teens’ sense of social engagement, others have found that young people are feeling increasingly isolated and depressed, likely in part as a result of distorted perceptions of others’ lives precipitated by social media. Amidst this controversy, a new study, published on Tuesday in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, examined the relationship between mental health and social media and found that it is more complicated than commonly assumed.

Embed from Getty Images

The study was impressive in scope, as it involved interviews with nearly 10,000 English children between the ages of 13 and 16. Researchers found that social media can have a particularly negative effect on girls’ mental health, not only because it increases their likelihood of being victimized by bullying, but also because it gets in the way of sleep and physical exercise. According to the researchers, social media itself does not harm young people’s development, but an overuse of online social networks can result in harmful consequences. As such, the researchers believe that strategies meant to decrease teens’ social media use may not be effective alone, and that strategies designed to reduce cyberbullying and improve sleep and physical health are likely more effective. The study also found that while boys also experience mental health challenges, these challenges are generally not linked with social media use, suggesting that more research on how social media affects boys’ mental health is needed.

The study’s finding of association between frequent social media use and mental health problems matches other research that has been conducted on the subject, such as a study published last year that found a link between the amount of time teens spend looking at screens and their probability of having depression. That being said, psychologists have stressed that the content of one’s social media experience is likely more predictive of mental health problems than frequency of social media use by itself, noting that there are many ways social media can promote mental health, such as strengthening social ties and exposing young people to others’ points of view.

Embed from Getty Images

Other studies have corroborated the finding that girls are more strongly negatively affected by social media than boys. A study published in The Lancet found that girls who used social media for more than five hours a day were 50% more likely to have depressive symptoms than girls who used social media less frequently, whereas boys who used social media for the same amount of time per day only had a 35% increase in depressive symptoms. That being said, neither study can prove that social media use causes depression, as it may instead be the case that people who already have depression are simply more likely to use social media excessively than people who do not. According to this study, girls were both more likely to report depressive symptoms and to use social media more than three hours per day.

While more research needs to be done to determine the reason for this gender gap, psychologists have suggested that it may have to do with the different types of content boys and girls engage with online. Girls are more likely than boys to focus on their physical appearance when using social media, which might mean girls are more likely to develop body image issues by comparing their appearance with others. Accordingly, Instagram, which is an app that in large part revolves around sharing pictures of oneself, has been found to be the most detrimental social networking service for young people’s mental health, followed by Snapchat, which is used in a similar way. For their part, Instagram has taken steps to try to reduce the negative psychological effects of its platform, starting with hiding the number of people who have liked a user’s picture to prevent social comparison that can leave people feeling isolated and inadequate. 

Gender Reveal

Knowing The Dangers of Gender Reveal Parties

Last month, a woman died at a gender reveal party, or a celebration announcing whether expectant parents will be having a boy or girl. A piece of shrapnel from a homemade explosive struck Pamela Kreimeyer, 56, in the head and killed her instantly.

Members of the Kreimeyer family had experimented with different kinds of explosive material, the Marion County Sheriff’s office said. They built a contraption to release pink or blue powder revealing the gender of the new baby, which they aimed to film for social media.

But instead, the device exploded like a pipe bomb, sending pieces of metal into the air that hit Ms. Kreimeyer, who was standing 14 meters away. “This family got together for what they thought was going to be a happy event with no intent for anyone to get hurt,” the sheriff’s office said. “This is a reminder that any time someone mixes these things there is a high potential for serious injury or death.”

This is not the first time a gender reveal party has gone dangerously awry. Last year, a man shot a target so it would explode with either pink or blue powder, but sparked a 47,000 acre (19,020) wildfire in Arizona that raged for a week.

A video of a man in Louisiana feeding his pet alligator a watermelon filled with blue jelly provoked concerns over the animal’s welfare and its owner’s safety. And in Australia, a so-called “burnout” — when a car emits blue or pink smoke — went disastrously wrong when the vehicle burst into flames.

Embed from Getty Images

Critics of gender reveal parties argue their damage extends beyond the physical and environmental. Even the woman credited with inventing gender reveal parties, Jenna Karvunidis, has spoken of her “mixed feelings” towards the phenomenon.

In 2008, Ms Karvunidis baked a cake with pink icing on the inside to reveal she was having a baby girl. She wrote about it in a blog and sparked a new trend. But that baby girl, now 10 years old, wears suits and short haircuts. Ms Karvunidis says her own perspective on gender identity has changed.

“Who cares what gender the baby is?” Ms Karvunidis posted on Facebook in July. “Assigning focus on gender at birth leaves out so much of their potential and talents that have nothing to do with what’s between their legs.”

Helen, a mother of a transgender child, agrees. She says gender reveal parties enforce “hideously stereotyped boxes where girls equal pink princesses and boys equal blue cowboys”. As children grow up, Helen says, these stereotypes prevent girls from studying traditionally masculine subjects like maths and science and instil in boys the belief that it is “feeble” to express emotions.

“It’s not just to do with gender,” she says. “What if your child is born disabled or doesn’t fit into a particular version of what a baby or child should be?” Helen says gender reveal parties prevent children from “being celebrated in all their infinite diversity. They are made to feel shameful if they don’t fit into this gendered stereotype”.

Embed from Getty Images

Sara is from the UK and was the first of her friends to throw a gender reveal party earlier this year. She had a difficult pregnancy that caused her significant pain and difficulty walking. She said the party created happy memories that kept her going.

“I don’t know how my mental state would have been if I didn’t have some kind of gathering like that,” Sara says. She planned games and revealed the baby’s gender by setting off a smoke grenade – a type of explosive. “I hadn’t done anything like that before,” Sara admits.

She read all the instructions and made sure the grenade was lit on safe grounds away from the public. Although she says it was a good way to celebrate and nothing went wrong, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) advises future parents to be mindful of safety.

Fireworks and smoke grenades “can seriously injure people and leave lifelong scarring and as such should be handled with care,” a spokesman said. RoSPA advise anyone planning to use them to familiarise themselves with the Firework Code.

And the gender of Sara’s baby? A girl. She was born premature at 34 weeks old, weighing 4 pounds 10 but she is now doing well. Sara describes herself as a “girly girl” and is looking forward to doing “magical fairy stuff” with her daughter. She does not believe gender reveal parties reinforce outdated gender stereotypes.

“People who are causing a scene I think are the ones causing the problem,” Sara says. “It’s not offensive.” She says she won’t mind if her daughter grows up to question her gender identity. “If she doesn’t feel right when she’s older that’s fine. But people are trying to make you think or believe that you should change all the time.”