The Science behind Social Media’s Hold on Our Mental Health

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We’ve been hearing for a while now that social media can have damaging effects on users’ mental health and sense of well-being. If we’re being honest, we probably have noticed some effects on our own selves that are not so desirable. What’s happening to cause that? Has all of humanity, and especially young people, just gone bonkers for social media? That’s not a very satisfying possibility, is it? Brittney McNamara, Teen Vogue’s features director, offers a better explanation in this November 2021 report.

Read it here.


1. As McNamara explains it, use of social media results in a “dopamine deficit state.” What is that state, and why is it so dangerous for mental health and equilibrium? Summarize McNamara’s explanation. Do you think she has explained it clearly and thoroughly? Why or why not? Explain your reasoning.

2. The social media behavior that McNamara describes is something that many (most? all?) of us engage in, and that probably no one is entirely proud of. What does McNamara do to avoid sounding judgmental toward her audience? Describe her stance toward her topic and her attitude toward her audience. Do you think her approach is effective? Why or why not?

3. LET’S TALK. If we assume that social media addiction is a serious problem, where does responsibility for solving the problem lie? With the companies? Advertisers? Users? Do we need government intervention and regulation? Explore these questions with a few classmates, and consider also the proposals that McNamara mentions near the end of her essay. How practical are those suggestions? Why or why not? What other ideas and solutions can you and your group come up with? You don’t all need to agree on solutions (in fact, it would be really extraordinary if you did!), but listen carefully to each other and come up with a list of a few items that might be viable. Be sure to point out where the responsibility lies for each of your possible solutions.

4. AND NOW WRITE. Keep a log of your social media use for three days—which apps/platforms do you connect with, the amount of time you spend on each one (Be truthful here! You don’t have to show your log to anybody.) Include in your log as much detail as you can, such as how many posts you make, how many times you’re tagged, and how many dopamine rushes you experience. Finally, record how often (and for how long) you stay connected when you think or know you should be doing something else. How is your emotional state before, during, and after your social media engagement? Once your log is complete, read it carefully, and finally, write an essay that responds in some way to McNamara’s essay. How well does her description of behavior apply to you? What steps, if any, might you like to take with regard to social media? Modify your own behavior in some way? Join a campaign to push for changes on specific apps or platforms? Organize and work with peers to support others who may be struggling as a result of social media use? Something else? Explain your feelings and ideas.

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