Social Media and Mental Health1
Correlation or Causation
Pick one of many studies that indicate a link between social media use and poorer mental health. And why would this be? Remembering that correlation does not equal causation, one must wonder if, in this case, we are dealing with causation. And yet, that would be inaccurate for this reason. Social media is not the problem. It simply exasperates the actual underlying problem.
The Underlying Problems
The researchers identify the underlying problem while focusing on the media problem. “…unfavorable social comparisons and not understanding that the way users present themselves on social media does not always reflect reality (of the posting individual) likely contributed to the results,” they concluded. If you only study one book of the Bible, you can understand what this means. It is the book of Proverbs, the book in part about the fool.
Pride, from two perspectives. First, be proud that you are so bad. Or, second, putting yourself on display as a model for others to emulate. Pride is a root issue. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him (22:15). There are many observations we could offer here, but the bottom line is that far too many parents have not patiently worked with their children with any consistency to purge the natural bent to foolishness and replace it with wisdom.
Such untrained youth tend to be seen in Proverbs 10:21, cp 1:20-22). They become scoffers seeking wisdom from these social media-poisoned wells (14:6). They delight in revealing their own minds rather than the understanding of life realities (18:2). That act with insolent pride scoffing at the warnings (21:24) and, like the dog, return to their vomit (26:11). Many who post spout folly as a babbling fool (15:2; 19:8-10).
The book of Proverbs depicts another reason for the impact of social media. Vastly more time is spent here on peer review and evaluation than pursuing the fear of the Lord (in the Word), which is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (9:10).
The second root cause is self-centeredness. “I want to be me,” or “I want you to want to be like me,” or “I want to put you down to be better than you.” Perhaps Jesus was looking across history and peering into a social media screen when he said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. ‘Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. …’”
What Are the Results
The early results correlate with the inspection of Facebook. This should not surprise you based on our simple survey of Proverbs. Do you remember your senior year when the yearbook came out? It would have been wise for administrators to have scheduled a day in the gym and designated it “Get Your Peer Strokes Day.” Do you remember how unkind some comments were? Do you remember whom you sought out to sign your book? Well, I’ll remind you. It was the pretty girl that sat next to you in biology class that you never had the nerve to ask out. When you wrote a sweet note in her Yearbook, you thought, “You dope, why did you not ask her out before she started going steady with bozo?” However, all this was our once-a-year Facebook, not multiple times a day and often anonymously, so people feel free to carve you up.
The SSRN study reported that in the first two years of Facebook, “…students with a Facebook account had a 7 percent increased risk of depression and a 20 percent increased risk of anxiety.” This was not speculation nor, let’s ding, Facebook; this came from a search of medical records.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an interesting contrast. The rate of suicide among 10- to 24-year-olds from 2000 to 07 was stable. However, from 2007 to 17 saw a 57% increase. Yes, you guessed it, the public use of Facebook launched in 2006.
So, what do we learn from this report? First, human nature has not changed, just the toys it uses. Second, the importance of parents in parenting, teaching, and coaching their children to a level of Christian maturity so that they neither think more highly nor lowlier about themselves but think soberly. Hence, they will not look for peer reinforcement but see themselves as children of God, who has sovereignly gifted them with his wisdom and purpose. They will be able to joyfully and useful utilize modern tools and not become depressed and anxious because they are not able by nature of economics to mimic their peers. Instead, they will have the spiritual presents of mind to thank their loving, caring God.
1 WORLD’s Julie Borg email@example.com Oct 6, 3:26 p.m. is the source reporting the particular studied cited.