The Courier

Sarah Grace Smith – Supplied Photo

The 2023 Canadian Forces Newspaper Youth Reporter Competition has ended and the four finalists have been selected. The finalists had the opportunity to work with professional journalists and editors on their submissions and have them published in a number of Canadian Forces newspapers. They will also receive a $1000 scholarship. The following is one of the selected submissions.

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Navigating Social Media Platform Use No Easy Task For Pre-Teens

Social media has rapidly become more integrated into our lives and has taken the world by storm. But how does this affect the minds of developing pre-teens? It’s no secret it affects our emotions either for good or for bad and is interwoven into our day-to-day lives.  

 Not a day goes by I don’t hear about social media or other online platforms. So how can we learn to live with social media presence in our lives? 

One solution would be to practice moderation. We need to realize the importance of pacing ourselves and practicing self-control. Is it possible social media is polarizing us or is the division more blurred? 

Do the benefits of social media outweigh the negatives?  Regardless, it is apparent social media is here to stay. The question now is understanding its effects on our mental health. 

Understanding the issues prompted me to source individuals with different perspectives. Participants for my study included teachers, peers, and a social worker. 

Participants shared their perspectives on how they believed social media influences our mental health. Overall, pre-teens had a more positive outlook concerning social media, while teachers and social workers viewed the use of social media with caution. 

My professional sources even viewed social media as a “curse” brought on my generation. Alternatively, pre-teens view social media as a wonderful tool for widespread use and believe it helps us stay connected. 

Some agreed it was particularly important during the past few years when the world was locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.Other participants in my study view social media with indifference, and expressed its influence rested solely with the individual. Essentially, social media could be negative if the user has bad intentions, or vice versa.  

The peers I interviewed were all about my age, ranging from ages 11 to 14, are female, and attend the same junior high school in Calgary, Alberta. We are French bilingual students since kindergarten. 

Despite my small sample, participants had differing and interesting opinions. I asked my peer participants the same questions, focusing on how they think social media affects them. 

There were questions about sleep, emotions, and their relationships with themselves and their body image. 

The first question was about how they were affected by social media in general. A common theme expressed by my peers — they believed there is an addictive component when using social media. Many expressed they find it difficult to control themselves while on social media and screens in general. 

They also said they would try to be on social media for a short period of time but found it difficult. Before they knew it, they would be on the screen the whole night. 

My peers also realize the amount of time they spend on a screen reduces the quality of their sleep. My peers said they would feel grouchy and short-tempered after spending an evening online. 

Some students expressed they did not like the consequences of being up most of the night. Some feel they get used to the feeling of being tired and fall asleep in class. 

My study also indicated a clear relationship between the amount of time spent on social media and the impact it has on body image. Some participants stated they believe social media changes how they perceive their bodies. 

Often, they see the “perfect” person with the “perfect” life and feel self-conscious about themselves. 

My peers also spoke of benefits to social media. They said it is a great way to keep in touch with family members and friends. They said if it weren’t for social media, they would feel very lonely.  Many said they believed having an online presence promoted good mental health. 

My peers feared that without social media they could feel isolated.  Participants viewed social media as a tool they use to learn and share experiences, providing them a sense of belonging. 

Peers expressed they found people with similar ideas and interests. They also noted appreciation for platforms which fight climate change, and other social issues. 

To gain other perspectives on these issues, I interviewed teachers and a social worker. The teachers interviewed are within my school. The social worker I interviewed is from Nova Scotia and works in a school setting.   

The professionals had differing opinions in comparison to the students I interviewed.  These professionals have a more negative view on social media and the influence it has on our mental health. 

They view social media as a challenge youth need to overcome and learn to navigate. These professionals have witnessed a decline in school engagement from students who have a strong social media presence. They advised of experiences with students where the cause of their struggles was due to social media.   

Due to brain development of young people, the professionals advised they believe we do not have the ability to realize the influence social media has on us.  Adolescents do not have the decision-making abilities to determine what might be risky or dangerous. 

The adults I interviewed also said they worry how peer-pressure presents itself over social media.   

Despite the negative influences of social media, the professionals did acknowledge some positive outcomes such as the ability for people to stay connected and to learn.   

The professionals stressed that parents need to play an ever-present supervisory role if they choose to allow their adolescents to be on social media. Parents should have a protective mindset concerning their adolescent’s mental health.   

My findings confirm social media and its effects are very polarizing. While most youth believe social media in moderation is not harmful, the prevailing opinion of the professionals is parents should be cautious in its use, and supervision is necessary.  

Myself, I believe we need to practice self-control when using social media, which is here to stay. Part of our healthy development is going to be about learning the skills necessary to use social media in a healthy and responsible way. 


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