An anonymous survey questionnaire was given to each of them to share their personal experience of being on social media. Most of them said they were on Facebook and could not go a day without checking the application.
“To be honest I cannot go a day without logging in,” said a 17 year old girl who says her parents have been trying to get her away from using her mobile device at bedtime. She said they were not succeeding as she tells them she is using the internet for school work.
Out of 60 teenagers interviewed 57 said they sometimes want to quit. The three, for whom it seemed like it was not a problem, simply did not answer the question.
Half of the group said they using social media for fun, some said only when they are bored, while others said they used it to connect with new people and get to know each other. Very few said they found social media useful, and the majority said they felt using it was putting their lives at risk.
A 15-year-old, sharing her personal experience on social media, said “I once chatted with a stranger who sent me nude pictures of himself when I was offline. When I logged in I found them on Messenger. I admit that I felt scared that day and I immediately blocked the person.”
Teenagers agreed social media offered little more than an edited version of reality, and all users needed to be careful.
“Last year I did not do well at school because of the social media. I was always disturbed by group chats and I couldn’t resist,” said one girl.
“I use social media when I feel ignored, or disappointed,” said 15-year-old Bontle Marame.
“Sometimes social media especially Facebook is helpful because it is a platform for me to express my feelings. Sometimes at home, I don’t get enough time with my family because they work till late and don’t have time for us.”
Of the 60 participants, 44 said they think they are addicted to social media and 22 of them claimed to need help to stop.
Lucy Karibi, an 18-year-old girl, said she was admitted to hospital for depression after being bullied by a stranger on social media. She was placed on medication and had to go for counselling by a psychologist at the Thuthuzela Care Centre. After she completed her sessions she felt better and deleted all her social media accounts and now relies only on Whatsapp to chat with family members.
“My advice to young people is ‘Don’t take everything on social media personally because it will hurt you’,” she said.
Research by Common Sense Media shows that 50% of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices. Studies show that teens who spend more time on social media are more likely to report mental health issues than those who spend very little time on the sites.
An edited copy of this story was published by Health24.