Social Media: What’s Healthy? What’s Not?

Social media has had tremendous implications for our society, specifically over the past decade. As a millennial, I recall when “chat rooms” were the newest fad. Our questions went something like: A virtual conversation? Over the computer? Why? What’s the point? Why wouldn’t you just call the person? Does it scare you that you can’t see him/her?

If you are over twenty, this probably sounds familiar. Things have changed in the past twenty years. Now, telephones and voicemail seem a nuisance when texting, snap-chatting, and “facebooking” are so available. Instead of, “We ran into the grocery store last week and she told me she’d be out of town,” it’s more commonly, “I saw pictures on her Facebook- they’re on a cruise.”

So, what’s the verdict? Is social media ruining relationships and connection like some people claim? Is it “all bad?”

Since social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I don’t think value judgments are all that helpful. Instead, I’d recommend developing awareness in the following areas. Then, you can be the judge. Are you balanced? Do you have a healthy relationship with social media or is it time for a hiatus?

1. Ask yourself: Why do you use social media?

Knowing your objective is the first step. Is it entertainment? A means of staying in touch? Is it a way to develop friendships? Or, is it simply a way of sustaining them? Once you know why you use social media, then you can figure out how much time it deserves. For example, if it’s primarily entertainment, how much of your day needs this kind of escape? In the same way experts don’t recommend TV watching for five hours a day, if you find yourself desperately “needing” to scroll through your news feed too often, maybe it’s time to instill some limits.

2. What’s the content and the quality of the information you are taking in?

What kinds of things do you follow, read and look at? Is the information worth your attention? Ask yourself: What kinds of things do I care about? Is it important for you to see pictures of your friend’s aunt’s 60th birthday party? If it is, great! Social media can be a wonderful connecting point. However, our social circles are only so wide. Oftentimes, I’ve found myself perusing the photos of someone that frankly, I no longer have a “real” connection with. You’ve heard the term “cyber-stalking,” right? Talk about a waste of time and energy! I suppose the bottom line here is: Treat Facebook like another source of information and ensure it’s just one in the mix. I’d recommend developing a balance of web-based news sites, entertainment blogs and the like. That way, you discriminate what kind of information you take in. When it comes to social media, focus on issues that you care about, follow people you really want to sustain real relationships with OR people who offer interesting perspectives on spirituality, culture and current events.

3. Does your social media account feel like it’s somehow a version of you?

But, it’s so personal, you might say! How can you compare my social media to CNN? Certainly, they are different. However, remember your Facebook is not you. It’s an image of you. Even more, it’s your hand-picked, crafted and developed image of you. You have complete control over your projection to the world. In no other realm of interaction can you be so deliberate about the way people see you. This is an important note and has great implications for your adolescent youth. Do you remember how much work it is to develop your identity as an adolescent? How much the opinions of your peers mattered? Identity and image are tricky things to sort out and it seems social media has the potential to prolong this adolescent angst. When you note how many “likes” or “comments” the pictures of your beautiful family receives also note how you feel afterwards? Affirmed? Happier? Acknowledged? Seen? Heard? Glad? Really take inventory. How do you feel? How much does it matter? If you sense your feeling response is too strong, take a step back. The number of “likes” you receive really doesn’t mean a darn thing when it comes to who you are. The number of people you have in your home? The quality of your conversation at dinner? The amount of laughter you and your spouse enjoy before turning in for the night? This is the important and real stuff of life.

4. Do you find yourself self-promoting?

Let’s be honest. Social media encourages us to self promote. It just does. We want to look pretty, smart, family-oriented, healthy, in-shape, interesting, etc. You fill in your blank. While the objection that social media is really for staying in touch or sharing carries some weight, it’s hard to argue social media is void of self-promotion. Now, it can be wonderful to share your story and your self with the world but I think we’d all agree there’s a line, isn’t there? When promoting self becomes someone’s primary means of engagement, something has gone terribly wrong.

5. Does your social media use promote mindlessness or distraction?

Remember our conversation on mindfulness? Mindfulness is the art of being present. Technology can be a mindfulness destroyer- and social media with its instant updates, messaging systems and notifications is no exception. Do you scroll through your social media feeds obsessively- i.e. when you are doing something else? Do you indulge in social media when you are watching TV, cooking dinner, talking to your children or sneak peeks in traffic? It’s hard to be present to anything else when you are taking in the latest updates of your 350 Facebook friends. Thankfully, the solution is simple- if you are a social media user, set aside time to use it, just like you would anything else that’s important to you. This takes discipline and awareness.

My hope is that this post encourages intentionality and thoughtfulness in the way you engage with social media. Otherwise, using it is too risky. The truest mental health implications that social media can create- depression, isolation, shame as well as connection, esteem and gratitude are a different conversation. As I said earlier, social media isn’t bad or good- but it is serious. It changes the way we think, interact, relate and engage. It’s worth asking yourself these questions.

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