Social Media and Its Potential Effect on Teenage Suicide Rates

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Is social media defining how teens feel about themselves and inciting suicide among our troubled youth? Social media has become a clearinghouse for the youth of today. It allows for almost any individual, especially youth, to openly vocalize their views and opinions on just about every aspect of their intimate lives. It becomes all too easy for them to share their personal values as well as their opinions on anything from world events to what to do on a first date.

The information that youth can share on the Internet is boundless. As the “Selfie Stick” generation, the youth of today have a global communications network that is unsurpassed in its ability to reach every corner of the planet. But technology, the Internet and social media have its downside. Social media is having an influencing effect on troubled youth, and is it a causation factor in the rise of suicide among teens.

According to a 2010 report by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over one-half million young adults between the age of 15 and 25 attempt some sort of suicidal act each year. In the U.S., suicide among young adults is the third leading cause of death in teens. A teenager tries to commit suicide every 1.1 seconds.

It isn’t enough that young adults have active hormones which seem to turn them inside out, but then there is the Internet and social media. Social media has created a new breed of classroom bullies – the cyberbully. These former classroom bullies have turned to the technology of the Internet to target their innocent prey. The cyberbully sets out to wantonly offend, intimidate and psychologically injure their victim. This faceless crime allows the cyberbully to hide behind a keyboard and computer screen and openly harass not only the intended individual but their peers as well.

Given the self-esteem sensitivity of the adolescent youth victim, in some cases, it can lead to withdrawal and perhaps even suicidal thoughts. According to Scholastic Teacher magazine, 42% of kids interviewed have been bullied online and 1 in 4 have had it happen more than once. Over 21% of kids have received mean or threatening e-mail or other messages. Close to 14% have received mean or hurtful comments online and 13% have been the subject of falsified rumors online.

One such story of social media obsession was Danny Bowman, age 19. He would spend more than 10 hours a day in an attempt to take that perfect selfie photo on his iPhone. His frustration mounted to the point that he dropped out of school and became a recluse. In his frustration, he became so obsessed with obtaining that perfect photo that he became depressed and eventually overdosed. It is no doubt that our society has become obsessed with the Internet and social media. Just by looking around, one can observe individuals of all ages with phone in hand, texting, messaging, checking emails and the such. Facebook and Twitter the most popular applications seem to be on almost every teenager’s phone.

As a connected society, social media has taken a stranglehold on today’s youth. The “Selfie Stick” generation’s reality has been captured by social media. But does social media incite suicide among young adults? According to an article in the American Journal of Public Health, there is increasing evidence that social media and the Internet can influence suicide-related behavior in young adults. Many social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Google+ have transformed traditional face-to-face communication among young adults into interactive sharing communications.

Blogging websites, electronic bulletin boards and video websites allow individuals to become “faceless” culprits of Internet flaming which is the insulting and often hostile one-to-one communications act between Internet users. Deliberate Flamers, as they are so often called, use profanity and derogatory language to degrade an individual to the point of emotional breakdown. Many Flamers team up to flame on a singular victim. Given the sensitive balance of a teenager’s emotional state, such similar types of actions can have consequential effects on the teen victim’s self-esteem.

Unfortunately, because of the extremely challenging association between Internet utilization and suicide, it has been particularly difficult to fully assess the extent of the Internet’s correlative influence on our nation’s youth suicide rates. Studies are only now evolving in attempting to disseminate information as to the correlation between the use of social media and teen suicide rates. Presently, there appears to be no way to monitor whether a teen’s suicide is the result of social media interaction.

When supervised and in moderation, social media and Internet communications can be an excellent mode for a teen to connect to and socially relate to their peers. As an ideal way to express themselves, it assists the teen in developing confidence, and self-awareness that can build their self-esteem and social values. On the other hand, when hostile cyberbullies and Internet Flamers harass and harangue the teen Internet user, their self-value is diminished and can in severe cases lead to mental depression and suicidal tendencies.

The relationship between the Internet and social media’s correlation to teenage suicide is still a debatable topic. Only by recognizing the signs and taking them seriously, and working with teachers, parents and the students themselves will social media and its relationship to teen suicide rates lessened


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