Social Media Kills Happiness

12/09/2016 12:36

A new academic year has arrived; exams have been sat and results have been collected. This year's A-level results saw a record 424,000 more students than ever accepted into UK universities. Despite a dip in A and A*grades for the fifth year running, many students will be celebrating their successes and so they should be. For most young people, their long awaited results meant facing a social media landscape awash with celebration: joyful students posting status updates about university plans and selfies of them opening their envelopes; proud mums and dads using the public forum to commend their children and boast of their success to all their many friends; teachers and schools and colleges are also equally eager to publicise the success of their high-flying pupils.

But what about those students who are feeling crushed and disappointed by their grades? Will they resist the lure to check out their friend's results, perhaps seeking comfort in a student who came off worse?

Does social media spread the joy or compound the misery of those feeling disappointed?

It's not often that we go online to broadcast our failures and disappointments. From an early age, we are socialised into a highly competitive environment; we understand what it is to be a winner or a loser; to be picked and chosen - to be recognised. As we progress through adolescence, we keep track of our accomplishments and begin to incorporate these into our identities. Even within families success and failure can be problematic, leaving some children feeling that love is conditional based on success alone.

We define ourselves by our interactions with others, how others see us, giving us recognition and attention - social media has brought this into the fore.

Recently, ChildLine reported a 20% increase in counselling for teenagers worried about their grades. Students who feel that they have underperformed in their exams may feel shame because they may fear losing the respect of friends and family. They could feel incompetent or that they have let people down by not living up to the huge pressures and expectations laid on by schools, often blaming themselves and spending time reliving the past year.

Unsurprisingly, social media highlights these feelings, with Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and the rest offering a constant stream of reminders that others are feeling "hashtag happy", while some maybe far from it.

Social media has provided us with a very public forum to share information and images that would previously have been reserved for a select group of trusted family and friends. Research suggests that users spend 20 minutes a day checking messages, playing games and uploading information.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, along with memes, jokes and pictures, social media has enabled us to engage with forums, having access to a wealth of information and introduced supportive online communities. Social media allows us to share the wonderful moments in our lives with large groups of people, many of whom will cheer and congratulate us. But when we are dealing with a sense of failure, social media can feel like an incredibly lonely and intimidating place - and can make it harder to recover from setbacks.

What is the solution- how can we combat these feelings of failure and exclusion on social media?

As hard as it may be for our generation, we should consider staying away from social media during times of vulnerability, at least in the short term. Seeing friends announcing their success is a guaranteed way to make you feel worse. Once you feel secure in yourself, or have made a firm plan from a setback, there's far less chance of a comparison-induced panic. Remember social media is a choice, not an obligation.