Perspectives in Digital Literacy/Stop Scrolling and Listen to Me

Stop Scrolling and Listen to Me: The Psychology Behind Social Media edit


Since the release of Facebook in 2004, the use of social media has increased enormously, and so has the threat to the emotional and social well-being of teenagers. As sociologist and psychologist, Dr. Sherry Turkle discusses in her TED Talk, “Connected but alone,” there are ways in which young people's reliance on technology is changing their relationships with each other. She argues that each of them is becoming increasingly disconnected from each other, both physically and emotionally, as they spend more time interacting with their devices; at one point she says that "No one is listening” anymore and “everyone is lonely but are afraid of intimacy."[1] These statements highlight the serious impact that social media can have on young people's relationships with others. How so? Teenagers, for example, do not listen to each other anymore, either due to a lack of attention or because they do not care about each other, and so, they are encouraged to create a personal bubble or a safe space where they can be whoever they want without fear of judgment as they don’t trust others. With this in mind, to what extent can the overuse of social media affect teenagers' cognition and social relations? This paper argues that its frequent usage changes how their brain functions and modifies their social behavior so that they cannot live without the permanent interruption of social media. As a result, teenagers may experience several noticeable changes, such as a sense of loneliness despite being physically present with others, anxiety about others’ perceptions of them and a constant need for acceptance or fear of rejection, and sleep disorders, as they spend so much time scrolling through their social media feeds late into the night.

The Negative Effects of Social Media Overuse on Mental Health edit

Although social platforms can be a positive resource to connect with others, there are exceptions where they disconnect people by stealing their attention and making them irresponsive. In fact, a team from the Department of Life Science and the Zlotowski Centre for Neuroscience at Ben-Gurion University conducted a study that examined the relationship between cellphone usage and its potential negative effects on human and social cognition. They found that constant engagement with social media, text messages, and other platforms can lead to changes in how people think, remember, and interact with others.  Some of the changes they refer to imply a decrease in mental health, wellbeing, and appearance of patterns from other disorders. Also, they cite other authors who explained the repercussions in mental health due to this relation such as experiencing low emotional stability and self-esteem, chronic stress, depression, and disruptions in sleep patterns.[2] Teenagers are increasingly exposed to a variety of content, including bad news. For example, they may see news stories about mass shootings in schools. This exposure to bad news can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and increased stress levels, as teenagers may start to worry that something similar could happen to them or their loved ones. The spread of bad news, or even fake news, can trigger these negative and overwhelming emotions.

Social Distress

When they misuse social media, they can create significant negative effects on everyone in their surroundings, as they can amplify their insecurities and pressure them to conform or to fit in. As science writer for the American Psychological Association, Summer Allen analyzes in his article “Social media’s growing impact on our lives,” there are gradual changes of early exposure that social media is making to distinct aspects of a young mind, such as: cognitive development, face-to-face interaction, creating own identity and establishing relations. At one point he reveals:

[A] Common Sense Media survey found that 13 percent of teens reported being cyberbullied at least once. And social media can be a conduit for accessing inappropriate content like violent images or pornography. Nearly two-thirds of teens who use social media said they “'often' or ‘sometimes' come across racist, sexist, homophobic, or religious-based hate content in social media.[3]

We can interpret Allen’s findings by saying that teenagers are more vulnerable to harmful content without proper education, supervision, and communication. This can lead to them developing negative behaviors, such as racism, in order to fit in with their peers. As they are still developing their identity and sense of belonging, teens need to learn to identify harmful content and communicate with others about their online activity.

Social isolation

Social media communities are known to encourage mental health problems and eating disorders by creating a lack of self-presentation/identity creation and body image disturbance. According to what scientific writers Pixie G. Turner and Carmen E. Lefevre analyze in their study “Eating and weight disorders,” there is a relation between the use of Instagram and the creation of Orthorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder that consists of eating obsessedly healthy which can lead to a restricted diet, nutritional deficiencies, or malnutrition. As they explain: “Social media use is ever increasing among young adults and has previously been shown to have negative effects on body image, depression, social comparison, and disordered eating". Therefore, social media platforms like Instagram can trigger social comparison, which can lead to negative body image and self-esteem. Turner and Lefevre found out factual evidence of the prevalence of Instagram as a beginning source for adolescents to experience loneliness, deception or frustration when they  do not look alike the people they follow, a diminished body image, altered diet by trying to eat like their influencers to achieve some desired image and the dangerous advisements they can  get about food-related content from people without the proper education to do so.[4] Therefore, teens' perception of body image, nutrition, self-esteem, and identity are being disturbed by what is on trend and the content they are exposed to by the people they follow.

Upon the rise of more social media platforms, young people expect to socialize more with others, but the truth is they get lonelier and consequently, they isolate from society and limit their face-to-face interaction, all because the comfort it brings to be someone else. On the other hand, teenagers are so terrified to show their “imperfections” to the world that they hide behind a screen or a filter. As Dr. Turkle discusses in her TED Talk, they are being threatened by a loss in the capacity of choosing what they want and where they want to go. Also, diminished personal introspection is affected because they are afraid to look inside themselves, so they set a wall, a filter that can be changed based on what they want to show.[5] As a result, they are unable to create real connections, do not trust themselves or others, and isolation and loneliness show up. When someone is alone, they choose to be alone to give themselves some time, so it is good emotionally; on the other hand, feeling lonely means they do not have company but also, they are empty, insecure, and misunderstood.

All the above can be expressed in researcher and professor Danah Boyd’s question, “does social media displace teens of socializing or we are displacing them when we restrict them to socialize with others?” (Allen)[6]. It would seem that they unintentionally isolate themselves from society due to fears, overprotection and other factors. At the same time, they are alone together when they decide to stop caring about their surroundings and get immersed in a personal virtual world while being physically with others.

Strategies for Regulating Social Media Usage edit

We have seen many negative consequences of social media overuse, but they vary depending on the person. For example, if teens check social media first thing in the morning and see something that upsets them, it can set their mood for the rest of the day. They may become angry, irritable or even depressed. This is because social media can be a breeding ground for negative emotions. Another example of this is feeling tired after scrolling through social media newsfeed all night. Therefore, it is truly important that everyone start to self-reflect about how their time management is and ask themselves why they are doing things and what keeps them motivated. By doing this, teenagers can recognize bad habits so later on they can reset goals and create a purpose (one that matters) for the things they do and use to make changes that guide them towards keeping that good workflow.[7]

For these reasons, when young adults become conscious and recognize these red flags in their relationship with their phone and social media and also are aware of the many losses it creates, they can, therefore, develop strategies to overcome them. The Center for Humane Technology, a non-profit organization whose focus is on exposing the negative effects of social media and other attractive technologies that steal young adults' behavior and thoughts -among others-but also pursues a change in society and provides helpful resources have put together some ideas that can help teens reclaim control over themselves:[8]

Family playing a board

Turning off notifications

So, they will not be interrupted at important moments.

Remove, manage, or log out of toxic apps

They promote misinformation, hate content and addiction (if they did not notice it). Experiencing a few days without media can be very healthy.

More critical less outrageous

Selectiveness with the content they choose to follow, more educational, inspiring, less outrage and polarization. Taking a break before arguing or criticizing someone, because whatever they do or say can be used against them and others.

  • Establishing limits

Taking control of the moments when they use their phone. Creating strategies that keep them the farthest from technology, exchange phone use with other activities.

And finally, reading, reading a lot: journals, magazines, books, comic books, whatever but read.  

(“Take control of your social media use;” “Tips to take control of your tech use”)

In conclusion, overuse of social media can have a negative impact on teenagers' mental health and social behavior. It can diminish cognitive development, limit the ability for face-to-face interaction, and disturb their identity formation and self-esteem. It is important for them to be aware of the harmful effects of social media and to take steps to protect themselves and others from its negative effects. They can do this by identifying harmful content, educating themselves and their peers about its dangers, and using the strategies mentioned above to reduce its impact.

Time to reflect edit

It is important for young adults to reflect upon their daily activities and motivations in order for them to enhance their learning system and behavior.Therefore these questions are made for that purpose, to reflect about the power social media has over young adults life.

Pictofigo - Idea
  • How many time do you spent daily on social media? if you know so, have you checked the screen time app in your phone?
  • How much do you know about social media usage and its effects?
  • How do you feel while being in social media vs doing other activities?
  • To what extent do you feel social media influence negatively your life and biased your decisions?
  • When was the last time you had a real conversation?

Further learning edit

If you are interested in this topic and would like to know more about it here are some recommendations on the topic:


  • Sherry,Turkle “Connected, But Alone?”, In this TED TALK, American sociologist Sherry Turkle Examines our current relationship with technology and how it is affecting the deepness of our face to face interaction and how it is killing empathy.
  • The social dilemma This documentary explores the impact that social platforms have over our lives, such as, how we think and what we choose to see. Also, it exposes the harmful content they have: Misinformation, polarization and mental health issues among others.


  • Speaking of psychology: How social media affects teens’ mental health, Psychologist Jacqueline Nesi from Brown University discusses the negative impact of social media among teenagers, if it should be banned for them and the political restrictions that are being developed to get social media out of their hands.
  • Center For Humane Technology: Are the Kids Alright? Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his coworker psychologist Jean Twenge reveal alarming statistics regarding self-harm and suicides rate among teens involving and increased social media use and a comparison between Generation Z and Millenials.


  • Youth Toolkit This guide created by Humantech proposes a safer way to navigate through social media and reduce its impact with self-awareness exercises that can be used by anyone who seeks to learn more.
  • Infographic: The Dark side of social Media This infographic created by humantech exposes the harms of navigating through social media, how to identify its source and shows strategies to overcome this situation.

References edit

  1. Turkle, Sherry. “Connected, But Alone?”. March 2012.
  2. Hadar A, et al. Answering the missed call: Initial exploration of cognitive and electrophysiological changes associated with smartphone use and abuse”, PLOS ONE, 2017
  3. Allen, Summer,” Social media’s growing impact on our lives,”, 2019.
  4. Turner, Pixie G. and Carmen E. Lefevre. Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa.” Eating and weight disorders: EWD vol. 22,2 (2017).
  5. Turkle, Sherry. “Connected, But Alone?”. March 2012.
  6. Allen, Summer,” Social media’s growing impact on our lives,”, 2019.
  7. Center for Humane Technology, "Take control of your social media use.
  8. Center for Humane Technology, "Tips to take control of your tech use., 2021.