Experts have vastly different opinions on social media and its effect on youth 

Overreliance on social media can lead to struggling in school and a negative effect on mental health, but according to one expert it can be positive as well. Photo by: Allyson Harry

OSWEGO, N.Y. — With the expanding presence of social media, its influence on youth’s mental health and its role in educational settings has become a topic of concern.

Shannon Lynch, lab manager and senior research assistant at the Institute of Autism Research at Canisius University, draws from her experience working with children to speak on this issue.

“Sadly, I see more of the negative impacts than the positive impacts. Children are now overstimulated with content, which makes the long stretch of time a student is in school where they need to focus their attention much more difficult for them,” Lynch said.

She said social media negativly impacts children’s self-esteem, and influencers worsen the situation.

Lynch, a member of Gen Z herself, said there the significant shift in online access and social media use between her generation and Gen Alpha.

Lynch said that schools have a role in navigating this digital landscape.

“I work mainly in Buffalo Public Schools, and even within them, it changes. Some schools have embraced the use of social media by students, encouraging interaction through school social media pages,” Lynch said.

According to Lynch, the influence of social media on students’ behavior and relationships is undeniable. She says children need to be educated on the mental and emotional risks associated with excessive social media use.

“You can see how social media use changes a child’s behavior. Most often, you can see children put more effort into their appearance upon being introduced to social media, and also seeming less confident,” Lynch said.

“This lack of confidence can really impact performance in school, by lowering particpation and interest in learning by not engaging with their teachers and peers,” Lynch said.

Lynch said youths are susceptible to social media addiction. She said how important parental involvement is in regulating screen time to mitigate detachment from reality and overreliance on online personas.

“How social media is being introduced to children is making it where parents and students alike see it as a completely normal thing because of the normalization it has gone through. That does not mean it is developmentally appropriate or beneficial in any way,” Lynch said.

Lynch says a major solution to this is creating more child-focused online spaces where it is safe to explore without worrying about the content they are consuming.

Jonathan D. Rodgers, an associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Canisius University, has been working alongside students since he was in grad school more than a decade ago.

“Social media usage has certainly increased substantially and now it’s a large part of kids’ social contact with each other and a large part of their social experience and maintaining relationships,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers highlights the positive aspects of social media.

“I think that media usage in general is positive because it allows us to explore our identity and provides a nonthreatening social media to maintain relationships,” He said.

He acknowledges social media’s positive aspects but notes the risks of unrestricted access, especially for adolescents.

“I think the negative element comes in the unmonitored access who don’t have a parent monitoring their usage. I don’t think the problem is social media itself I think it’s unregulated and lack of feedback,” Rodgers said.

“When it comes to participation in school and performance, a lot of the time it’s finding that balance that works. Being able to learn how to separate downtime and when it’s time to learn is what will be the difference,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers believes that being aware of the artificialness of social media and knowing it is a curated version of people is a step in the right direction to having a positive relationship with the internet.

Rodgers advocates for awareness and occasional breaks to maintain a healthy relationship with social media. 

“If it is having a negative impact on mental health, taking a break from it isn’t going to end your social life,” he said.

“In the end, what it comes down to is the amount of free reign these children have on the internet,” Lynch said.