There’s no denying the crucial role technology plays in our lives. While adults may feel only a twinge of guilt for checking their phones during dinner or spending a few hours scrolling through social media, millennials see things differently. With iPhones nearly permanently attached to people’s hands, it’s important to look at the ways technology impacts our lives.
Societal expectations and peer pressure surrounding technology affect younger women (those born roughly between 1981 and 1991) differently than previous generations. In this piece, we’ll discuss the positives and negatives of technology’s impact on young women’s health.
1. Opportunities to Empathize
Social media is often regarded as a singularly negative force in the lives of young women. Social media platforms have been linked to bullying, encouraging eating disorders, and causing depression. However, despite its reputation, it’s not all bad. According to a study of nearly 1,500 adolescents and young adults, social media can actually provide a positive boost in areas like self-identity and expression, sense of community, and emotional support.
In one study, YouTube earned the most positive evaluations from the teen participants. The video-streaming service scored major points for raising awareness of personal health experiences, and being a reliable source for health information. YouTube proves that social media can provide a medium in which to empathize with people you’d never meet in your daily life.
Another surprising benefit: The study group reported that YouTube, in particular, decreased the levels of depression, anxiety, and isolation in young women.
2. Pressure to be Perfect
While YouTube received positive marks in the study, other big social media players (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram) scored negatively across the board. Young women reported that every platform negatively affected their quality of sleep, as well as their body image. In addition, the group described prevalent bullying across each social site.
The perception of how one fits into the world is a large part of how individuals, especially teenage girls, define themselves. When friends only post photos of their great times and accomplishments, it’s easy for them to feel that they have nothing to offer – or that their lives are boring and meaningless. This opens the door for plummeting self-esteem.
Photo-heavy social networks like Snapchat and Instagram can be dangerous for girl’s self-image. With photo shopping apps, differing angles, filters, and more, everyone can look their best. This focus on the outward appearance, regardless of whether or not it is “accurate,” can undermine anyone’s feeling of self-worth.
3. Expanded Access to Mental Health Resources
A growing variety of apps are providing young people with access to mental health resources they might not engage with otherwise. For a lot of teens, therapy isn’t terribly appealing, but add some technological tools to the mix and mental health resources become a lot more accessible and acceptable.
For example, the Crisis Text Line allows individuals to speak with trained volunteers via text, to receive support and information that will help de-escalate a moment of crisis. For long-term mental health management, apps like AnxietyCoach help track daily progress.
Many of these apps are free or low cost, and they can be a substantial support if certain mental health services are out of reach. They can also help young people transition into the accepting in-person mental health treatment, or provide a supplement to the care provided by their doctor. Many licensed professionals are beginning to see the potential benefits of adding tech-based tools to their treatment plans, which may be a huge step forward for young women’s mental health care.
4. Increased Indirect Communication
While many will joke that young adults interact using their own “unique” and “indecipherable” language, the indirect nature of social media can cloud the tone and intent of nearly any interaction. For adolescents, this can mean stress and confusion regarding how honest and forthright communication works.
When looking at a screen rather than a face, it’s easier to say things you would never say in person. Indirect communication strips away key aspects of body language and can threaten young women’s ability to communicate well enough to form stable relationships with their peers.
But if teens split their socialization between in-person and digital communications, outcomes don’t have to be negative. When some relationships are founded on whether or not someone liked a photo on a social media network, or the relationship is solely based upon Instagram comments and frequent snaps, it’s important to engage in person as well. In-person communication, combined with technology, can positively affect how connections and friendships are formed and maintained.
5. Opportunities to Engage
One study has found that texting, in particular, is associated with lower levels of same-day depression and anxiety.
Though social media and other technology can certainly have damaging effects, it can also provide an incredible variety of opportunities to engage in healthy communication with peers. Young adults who are at risk for mental health disorders are more likely to isolate themselves, which makes social media a potential avenue for connection, not just bullying or the traditional negative stereotypes around its impact on health.
Part of affective health care is considering how all aspects of a person’s lifestyle come together, including technology. Social media can be a tool to help make positive changes to the mental health of young women. However, insight into and understanding of social media as well as one’s “inner-being” should be a priority for young those of any age.