Why You Have the Social Media Blues
By Sonali Gupta
Today’s parents are grappling with an issue no previous generation has faced: social media’s place in our lives and
in our children’s lives. Each day this week, at least one post will tackle the topic from a different angle. Read on and, as always, make the decisions best for you and your family.
I’m very active on social media, mainly on Facebook and Twitter. I use these platforms to promote mental health, reduce the stigma around mental illness—and yes, also for being social. When I recently told my husband about some upcoming events in our city, he asked, “Where do you hear about all these events?” My 5-year-old daughter quickly replied, “Mamma finds it on her WhatsApp groups!” We had a hearty laugh over this, but the reality is that over the years, social media has become a huge source for information – whether brain-tingling, new research or mindless fun – and an important tool for creating awareness, staying in touch with friends, and enhancing business.
Yet, in my practice and daily interactions with students, friends and family, I hear stories about people shutting their Facebook or Twitter (or other social media) accounts because they feel it consumes them or has taken them away from their real lives. A client once shared with me his feelings of loneliness and bitterness when he browsed through other people’s Facebook accounts. He mentioned how everyone seemed to have a perfect life, which, when compared to the imperfections of his own, led him to feel increasingly sad, to binge eat, and to suffer from sleeplessness. He was far from alone; research does show evidence that spending time on Facebook can negatively impact one’s self-esteem.
Ethan Cross, a social psychologist, conducted interesting research that found the more time people spent on Facebook, the less happy they felt. Like my client, Cross’s subjects felt a downward spiral after browsing through other people’s profiles, leaving with the impression that others lead perfect lives. Cross pointed out a surprisingly simple way to help counter these low feelings: meeting people face-to-face.
We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media; the question is how well we do it.
— Erik Qualman
I have seen an increase in the number of clients who struggle with Bedtime Procrastination, which is defined as “going to bed later than intended, even though there are no external circumstances accountable for doing so.” Even after people lie down to sleep, they spend hours on mobile devices browsing through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages. I worry this growing habit wreaks havoc on our biological rhythm, which requires the ‘reset’ of sufficient sleep each night.
Yet the effects of social media are not always negative. I recently met Professor Henry Jenkins, a media scholar from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who spoke about the power of participatory culture and how it can shape the civic and political good. Listening to him, I realized that it’s all about how we tap into the power of social media; to compare and judge won’t nourish us, but to create channels of learning and sharing will.
As Erik Qualman says, “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media; the question is how well we do it.”
We need to find a balance between our virtual and real lives. It may start with remembering that social media represents only a part of people’s lives, the part they want others to see—not the complete picture. Social media is most often a showcase of our success stories, our admirable characteristics, our interesting experiences; when given the choice – which social media gives – very rarely do people willingly put their flaws, challenges and fears on public display. There is more to people’s lives than what is on their profile, but we sometimes forget this. Sometimes, our desire to stay connected to others is so high that we forget to connect with our own self.