It looks as though you can't take five steps down the street these days without bumping into someone who is walking along with their head in their phone. If you hop on the bus you will more than likely be forced to listen to someone else's loud conversation about how much fun last night was. If it's not a conversation it might be a Snapchat story or 10 about what the hottest new trends in makeup and fashion are. Either way, whether you like it or not, people and their mobile phones are taking over your personal space and forcing you to become part of their online world.
Last week, I went to the cinema to see a new film I was really looking forward to. From the second we took our seats there was constant giggling and loud whispering coming from the row of seats behind us. After about 30 seconds it became apparent that they were laughing at the Snapchat pictures someone else was sending them. Every few seconds there was a loud shriek and a girl would shout "OMG he sent me another dick pic!" to which everyone else in the group would burst out laughing. Were they the only other people in the cinema? No. Were they acting like they owned the place? Yes!
It appears that the new generation of young millennials have been brought up to believe that they are "special" and they can do what they want, when they want, to who they want, and they do not need anyone else's permission, especially not their parents.
These highly influential teenagers and young adults have grown up with a huge social media influence that our parents did not have when they were becoming adults. Social media has become such a massive part of their lives that they find it difficult to distinguish between the fake, online world and reality. Granted not every single teenager has an obsession with their phones and it's not just teenagers that do either, it affects us all. However, this is the generation who have been told that they can have anything they want and be whatever they want. What they are not being told is you have to work really, really hard for it!
I see so many young people with a false sense of reality. They put filters on everything. Sometimes they even use multiple filters for the same photo or video! Do they know it's not reality? Yes, but everyone is doing it! So why would you then turn around and put up a spotty, non-filtered photo of yourself for the world to see? Sure you wouldn't get any 'likes' then!
Their self esteem is based on fake 'likes' for fake photos of a fake, happy world where they are always out having fun, eating in fancy restaurants, spending loads of money on new clothes or getting drunk with friends. No one puts up snaps of themselves having the same boring dinner they had last night, or feeling like shit in their old pj's watching re-runs of Friends because there's nothing else good on TV at 3pm. These people usually have at least 500 "friends" on Facebook and Instagram. Why then, is this generation growing up with lower self-esteem than any other previous generation?
It's because of our need to feel good about ourselves that we have become addicted to social media. When someone likes our photo on social media a chemical is released in our brains called dopamine. This chemical helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres. So when someone likes our photo we feel pleasure. When multiple people like our photos that feeling is multiplied and we feel great for a few seconds. The problem with this is that dopamine is highly addictive. The same chemical is released into our brains when we smoke, drink alcohol or take drugs - all highly addictive habits. Is it any wonder then why everyone is so addicted to their phones and social media when it can make you feel so good about yourself?
Another issue with this fake feeling of perfection and false sense of reality is what happens to these people when they leave the bubble of school or college. Sure, they have been studying and working towards getting a good education, but has anyone prepared them for the harsh reality for having to get a job and start paying bills immediately? Most of them won't want to move back in with their parents and sponge off them for another few years. Suddenly they are hit with responsibilities like rent, bills, jobs and real life.
Unfortunately, many of this generation can't handle it and their self-esteem sinks lower than it ever has before. Everywhere they look they are presented with images of celebrities with photo shopped bodies sunning themselves and drinking cocktails on an exotic beach. The next image is of a super car being driving by a guy in his mid twenties with the caption "Life Is Good!". How can anyone have a true sense of reality when all they see is fake riches and images of perfection everywhere they look.
Suddenly they begin to realise that they are not as special as they were made to believe and they won't just get promoted into a great job without working their asses off for it. Their self-esteem plummets even further and leads to feelings of stress, anxiety and in some cases depression. The realisation of reality hits and no one prepared them for this.
In the worst possible cases I have seen people get so depressed that they feel there is no way back, no way out and no point in continuing to feel like this. Self harm and even suicide is one of the biggest causes of death in young people these days and it is growing more frequent every day.
This, obviously, is the worst possible scenario and I am not for one minute suggesting that everyone who is addicted to their phones will end up becoming depressed or suicidal. I am simply stating the facts. As grim and negative as it sounds, we have to start facing reality that some young people cannot handle the pressure of social media's influence on their lives. They need us to stand up and show them what reality is and that no one is perfect in this world. Equally, no one gets handed an amazing job earning over 100k a year without working really, really hard for it. These stories on Instagram of people earning a million dollars before they are 30 years old are simply not a reality for most of us. Of course it is possible, but you have to put in serious work to even think that would happen. It's time for a reality check. It't time to help others who are about to become adults and prepare them for what they will face. Becoming an adult is tough enough on its own, never mind doing it with low self esteem, extra stress, anxiety or depression.
Below I have listed some things I think can help reduce the impact of social media addiction. Some might be obvious to us but if we actually did them they can have a huge impact on our mental health, physical health and overall wellbeing and happiness.
1. Turn off the wifi box at its source before you go to bed - looking at our phones in bed has become as common as brushing our teeth before we jump into bed. The blue light coming from your phone is seriously damaging to your eyes and will eventually cause long term damage. It also stimulates your brain into thinking that you are not tired. Leave your phone downstairs or turn it off and you will start to drift off more easily and get a solid sleep that your body really needs.
2. Invest in an alarm clock - "but you need your phone alarm to wake you up in the morning"....no you don't. Invest in an alarm clock and you have no excuse to have your phone next to your bed or under your pillow. It doesn't have to be an expensive one but you can get really cool ones that do crazy things to wake you up these days!
3. Read a book - next time you find yourself reaching for your phone stop yourself and reach for a book instead. Allow your mind to run wild imagining what the characters look like and where they live. Our brains are powerful and can make up any image in our heads, we don't need to see it on social media to believe it.
4. Stop yourself from checking your social media accounts - every time you are finished looking at your account log out completely so that you have to enter your password the next time you log in. Make sure you leave at least an hour before logging in again. Then try two or three hours between logging in next time. The longer you go without checking your accounts the less interested you will eventually become and start looking at other interests instead.
5. Remind yourself why you don't need social media in your life - we all know social media is not necessarily reality so why do we spend so much of our day looking at it. Well the answer is explained above. So now ask yourself do you really need that hit of dopamine from someones fake online story or would you be better off contacting that person to meet up and go for a coffee and catch up with them and laugh face to face?
6. Think before you comment on social media - this is probably one of the most important points I want to make. So many people think that is is okay to go onto someone else's photo and comment in a negative way about their looks, weight or what they are doing. Even if you say something like "sorry but, I think......blah, blah, blah", if that is a negative comment it can affect the recipient in ways you will never know. Is your opinion really important enough to put your name next to a negative comment. Not only does it look bad on you, it also make the recipient feel bad and there is no need for it. If you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all!
Hopefully by making some of these changes you will see a difference in your own tendencies to check your social media accounts too often. Of course social media is great for keeping in touch with friends and letting people know what we are up to. Just try not to abuse it as its our own mental health that is taking the toll.