Voices of Youth: Connect or disconnect? Teens and social media

Editor's Note: This story was reported by Alexander Velo and the accompanying artwork was created by Savannah Scheffers as part of the Fall 2023 Kalamazoo Voices of Youth Program. The program is a collaboration between Southwest Michigan Second Wave and KYD Network in partnership with the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, funded by the Stryker Johnston Foundation. The Voices of Youth Program is led by Earlene McMichael. VOY Mentors were Jane Parikh (writing), Casey Grooten (art), and Taylor Scamehorn (art).

Social media can be a time trap and affect a young person’s mental health if not managed properly.

A Gallup survey shows that teens spend about 4.8 hours on average per day on digital platforms. Local experts and students say this leads to good and bad ways social media can be used to help or hurt young people. 

“You need to be in a good space to have social media,” cautions Naomi Pulliam, a student at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo. 

Although social media can seem like it only hurts people, Pulliam points out that it can be a great tool to help teens connect. 

“It can be a good place to be entertained and make you feel better,” she says. “It can also help you to find people you relate with and get help on things you may not know too much about. And social media can help you communicate with your friends.”

The amount of time teens spend on social media can vary widely. If interviews with a small handful of Loy Norrix students are any indication, it can range from as little as one hour per day to as much as 14 hours, with the average being almost seven hours.

Some Norrix students said that it can be hard to concentrate on important things, like schoolwork and friendships because they’re on apps so much. Other students told us of having trouble sleeping or experiencing stress due to exposure to false information and rumors online.

And instead of feeling more connected, a study shows people who were already feeling lonely feel even lonelier after going on social media, reports Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest private nonprofit healthcare company.

If youth spend more than three hours a day on social media, it doubles their chances of being depressed and anxious, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory titled “Social Media and Youth Mental Health.” It was issued in May of this year. 

When to act

What should teens do if they are struggling with social media?

Mark Glubke, a therapist with Mid-America Psychological Services in Portage, suggests talking about it more with the people around them and setting time limits on their apps.  

Or consider getting rid of your social media altogether. In the words of Loy Norrix student Alyssa Schabes: “Deleting social media is like a breath of fresh air.” She explains that’s because it can be “so hard to find the real truth on the Internet.”

“Someone hears one thing and then it could be totally different from what the real story is so you get so many different versions of so many different stories,” Schabes says. 

Becky Parsons, a counselor at Loy Norrix High School, says that the only way to make progress on social media overexposure is first being able to say that you have an issue and make progress from there. “We have unlimited access to everyone now,” Parsons says. 

Mark Glubke says it’s easy to fall prey to “compare and despair.” He says this means to compare yourself with someone online and then feel bad about yourself even though what you see may be doctored or changed to make the person look better.

“It's important to recognize everything that people say is not reality,” Glubke says. “We have to approach it understanding that a lot of this is fiction. People aren't going to post what makes them look bad, they are only going to post what makes them look good.”  

Glubke says social media can be a dangerous place or it can be a helpful tool. It all depends on how you use it. 

Alex Velo, Voices of Youth Writer

Alexander Velo
is a freshman at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he is a staff writer for the school’s Knight Life publication. Alexander likes to play video games, skate, read, and hang out with friends. 

Pen and watercolor, Savannah Scheffers. Please see Artist Statement below.
Artist Statement:
Savannah Scheffers created this mixed-media piece using pen and watercolor. She says, “A lot of times social media will cause you to feel very alone, but also watched and ridiculed until you are watching and ridiculing yourself.”

Savannah Scheffers, Voices of Youth Artist

Savannah Scheffers
is 13 years old and attends Schoolcraft Junior High as an 8th Grader. Savannah likes to kayak, ski, and read. Savannah’s favorite books include "The Book Thief" and the Red Queen Series. Savannah learned about Voices Of Youth from her mom's Facebook. She wanted to join the program because she enjoys doing art and wanted to do it for a cause. Savannah also wanted the opportunity to earn some money.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.