Social Media: Youth and Narcissism


By Muzamil Farooq

NEVER before have had young people so many chances to perfect their public image. They can, for example, edit their digital profiles and selfies indefinitely before posting them to the Internet or sending them to friends. Do they become more self-aware as a result of this ability, or do they become narcissists? In recent years, a plethora of social media platforms have emerged in rapid succession. Even a behemoth like Facebook must do everything possible to avoid losing its young users to other emerging apps. These developments raise a slew of concerns. Is the use of social media associated with superficial relationships and loneliness, or with an increase in self-esteem and social skills? As smartphones became more affordable, we are seeing a dramatic shift in how young people access and use media technologies and content. Smartphones have virtually permeated all strata of global society in the last decade.

While previous generations of teenagers developed dexterity in self-presentation and self-disclosure primarily through offline means, the smartphone generation prefers to use social media to aid in the development of these skills. In fact, one in every three adolescents prefers to communicate via social media rather than face-to-face. What could explain why adolescents prefer to communicate via social media, even about private matters? In short, this preference is due to the affordances of social media, which provide adolescents with an enhanced sense of control—or, more accurately, the illusion of control. The affordances give them the impression that they have control over who they interact with, how and when they interact with them, and whether or not they reveal their identity. This sense of control, in turn, makes them feel more secure and self-assured on social media than they do in real life. And this sense of control is especially important during adolescence, because adolescents on their way to autonomy can be uncertain about a variety of things.

Every now and then, we hear about user data or personal information being misused. Most teens, like adults, are well aware that social media threatens their privacy, but they continue to post pictures on social media. This contradictory behavior is referred to as the ‘Privacy Paradox.’ The privacy paradox focuses too much on informational privacy when another type of privacy may better explain teens’ (and adults’) online behavior. That is referred to as psychological privacy—our ability to control when, what, with whom, and how we share information about ourselves. Social media, to a much greater extent than offline communication, allows users to control when, what, and how they express themselves, as well as to whom. Every teen has a tendency to become more and more autonomous for deciding their life’s decisions on their own, the affordances of social media may reduce teens’ informational privacy, but they also provide them with enhanced psychological control over their communication and allow them to demonstrate their autonomy—which helps to explain social media’s enormous appeal for teens. Access to information can also increase a teen’s sense of control. Never before have had the adolescents access to such a wealth of information about the formation of identity, intimacy, and sexuality. They can research their idols, make online friends, and find support in self-help groups. Furthermore, because (most) social media platforms are scalable, teens can select the audience with whom they communicate.

Every day, teens spend a significant amount of time on social media, and accordingly numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the impact of social media on teens and adults. Apart from a vast number of harmful effects, researchers have identified narcissism as one of the most prevalent effects found in the majority of young people. Narcissism is characterized by a high level of public self-awareness. Narcissists are overly concerned with how others perceive them, and they will go to great lengths to be regarded favorably. Narcissism is a personality trait that everyone possesses to some extent. At its most severe, it is a psychiatric disorder that affects most of the population. Narcissists exhibit a wide range of symptoms. They have a distorted self-image and exaggerated self-confidence. They are arrogant, overestimate their abilities and feats, and expect to be admired for them. Sigmund Freud coined the term “narcissism.” It is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome youth who fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water and eventually starved to death because he couldn’t stop looking at his image. According to alarming publications such as The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, youth today are more narcissistic than previous generations. Some psychologists argue that, on a small scale, narcissism is beneficial to self-development. Indeed, research on adults suggests that narcissism is associated with a variety of positive traits, including self-esteem, assertiveness, and extraversion. The healthy levels of self-esteem, assertiveness, and extraversion are regarded as positive traits, whereas narcissism is not. A small amount of narcissism is likely to be adaptive, functional, and beneficial to social well-being. Excessive amounts, on the other hand, lean toward pathology and are harmful.

In contrast to the negative effects of social media, no one denies the benefits of it, especially in the information age of the twenty-first century. Everyone needs to remain updated with current events because no one wants to fall behind in this information age, but the question is where to press the breaks. The continuous release of dopamine and other hormones in the brain by entertaining content on social media gives people short-term pleasure, and in order to keep it releasing, we need to feed our brains continuously, which is exactly how the young generation has adopted the overuse of social media in their lives. In general, the negative effects of social media use on social-emotional development appear to vary according to how the younger generation use social media. If teens use social media to maintain existing contacts, as the majority of them do, the overall effects appear to be positive. However, if they primarily use social media to communicate with strangers, or if they create unusual profiles that elicit negative responses, the consequences are negative.


  • The author is a student at NIT Srinagar

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