Amid the pandemic, millions of teens are turning to social media platforms like TikTok to cope. While many teens love the social aspects of TikTok – finding a community, new friends, and even getting the chance to gain a following and experience the spoils of fame, it can also be harmful for your mental health.
Teens have seen TikTok stars like Charli D’amelio and Addison Rae rise out of anonymity and become idols and celebrities. Many hope that they might just get lucky and have the same thing happen to them. But TikTok isn’t all kicks and giggles. Body shamers, online trolls, and predators lurk in the comment sections of videos. Charli D’amelio, who has over 82 million followers, explained in an interview that “if you have followers, you’re not considered a person, you’re just a thing that people get to judge and objectify and call names and bully.” These nasty comments can make young people turn to drugs, eating disorders, and other coping mechanisms in order to feel better. This doesn’t just affect those posting videos on TikTok; it also affects the viewers. For example, a young girl might watch a TikTok of a girl with the same body type as her, but then scrolls down and sees comments such as “fat pig” and “ew, go to the gym” that will then make her feel insecure about their body. A recent study on the effects of social media on young girls explained that the use of social media “was related to greater internalization of thin ideal, appearance comparison, weight dissatisfaction, and drive for thinness.”
In a survey taken of almost 50 Oakton students, many indicated that they do enjoy TikTok, that it is funny and makes them laugh. However, some Oakton students mentioned feeling that TikTok affects them both positively and negatively. Almost half mentioned that they have considered deleting TikTok or other social media platforms in the past because it affects their mental health in a negative way. It seems that your mood after going onto TikTok depends on what is featured on the for you page. One Oakton student even said that, “I usually feel happy because I see a lot of videos. On my for you page though there was a video of a suicide that made me delete it for a while. Also the hate comments I see make me kind of insecure.” Evidently, TikTok can be a sanctuary, a place where you can forget about the issues in your own life. However, it can also be a place that makes you insecure, depressed and anxious.
So what can you do about it? The Oakton Outlook interviewed Oakton’s school psychologists, Ms. Lashley, Ms. Cherian, and Ms. Vater about how to use TikTok and other social media platforms safely. “The first step is to be intentional about how much time you are on there. The next step is to be mindful about how it is being used. If you need to use it, be an active user rather than a passive user. If you are just consuming images of other people whose lives look perfect and who look like society tells us we should look like, you are going to come away from that feeling anxious and depressed. If you are using it in an active and positive way, you will come back from it feeling positive and happy,” Ms. Lashley says.
They also mention how it is extremely important that teenagers don’t spend too much time scrolling through the for you page and staring at other people’s lives, because those images are just snippets of their lives, not their reality. Use social media to spread positivity, make other people happier, and then you will begin to feel better about your life and yourself. Especially as we are sitting at screens all day amid this pandemic, it is also crucial that you socialize outside of social media. You don’t want all your socialization to be off of TikTok or other social media platforms. Even if you can’t meet face to face, organize facetime calls, have socially distant meetups, or similar activities. Or maybe you spend time with your family. Go on a walk with your mum, play with your sister, run around with your dogs. Taking the time to socialize outside of social media is critical for your wellbeing.
Lastly, you need to give yourself positive affirmations. Ms. Vater talked about coming up with a phrase or a quote that you say to yourself every time you feel down about yourself. Remember, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. The only person whose opinion actually matters is you. So forget all the negativity you see on social media and focus on the positive things in your life. A quote by Walt Whitman perfectly encompasses that in this quote. “Keep your face always toward the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”