Social media is particularly damaging to young adults

Conversations should go beyond what not to post, expert says

Donna Freitas, author of The Happiness Effect, interviewed students across 13 college campuses about all things social media—its uses, its value, and its effects.

In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor's Marjorie Kehe, Freitas shares what she learned about how social media damages young people's mental health.

Although students enjoy the networking, communication, and planning opportunities on social media platforms, Freitas says her interviewees expressed consistent frustration with the fact that so much of social media has to do with appearing happy. 

Anxiety and depression are still the top two reasons students visit counseling centers

"College students have imbibed the notion that they must 'put on a happy face'—in the words of one interviewee—at all times online," Freitas told Kehe.

The pressure to look happy, Freitas says, extends beyond the realm of simply impressing peers. Young adults want employers, admissions officers, and other "people that hold power over their professional success/failure" to see them happy on social media.

This means that a lot of what gets posted online seems "fake" to students.

"This is maddening to so many young adults," Frietas says, because social media "often contradicts what they know of their friends/significant others in real life."

Related: Demand for mental health services is higher than ever—and just keeps rising

And although social media is a well-documented source of stress, it can be particularly damaging to young adults, says Frietas. They are more vulnerable to the pressures of social media because they're still working to establish themselves socially and professionally.

Though Freitas admits she does not have the perfect solution for this social media "happiness effect," she does recommend a vital first step: talking about it honestly.

"We need to have more conversations about social media with the young people in our lives—and by conversations I do not mean more rules and criteria for posts," argues Freitas. She says her interviewees were "craving" conversations how social media is changing society and relationships (Kehe, Christian Science Monitor, 1/26).

Student stress: A major barrier to completion


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