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More Connected or More Alone?

A recent study performed by The Economist showed a significant decline in teenage drug and alcohol usage. The research concluded teenagers today are better behaved than past generations their age, and while the study results are positive, they shadow a deeper issue.

The study also reported teenagers today are more socially isolated than ever before.

According to the study, since 1998, the average age teenagers first try alcohol has risen from 14.4 years to 16.1 years. Along with alcohol, other drugs are on a steep decline among teenagers, including opioids. In the same period of time, teenage birth rate has declined 67 percent, and teenage sexual activity is down 13 percent.

Some sociologists argue the internet takes the place of social interaction in the lives of teenagers, which comes with both positive and negative outcomes. More internet use possibly means less room for teenage partying, but it also means teenagers are spending less and less time with friends.

According to counselor Barbara Bloomfield, “the relationship skills we build as young people are crucial to how we form our relationships later in life. But the way those early relationships are conducted has changed immeasurably in the last 10 years, leaving a gulf between this generation and the previous ones.”

While internet as a whole can replace social interaction, social media is the main culprit to blame. With the rise of social media, teenagers are “making friends” and interacting with their peers on social media rather than face-to-face.

Bloomfield also said social media can separate teenagers from reality.

“It can feel isolating to watch friends have fun and post selfies without you,” Bloomfield said. “The temptation to compare your own life to the perfectly curated life that friends portray online is huge.”

A survey conducted by the counseling organization YouGov found one in eight young adults said they have no close friends. The majority reported having two or three close friends.

We are more connected than ever before, yet we are feeling more alone.

You may have heard before that humans are “social animals.” We naturally crave the feeling to belong to each other and feel connected to one another. Researchers have discovered that social pain, such as loneliness and rejection, activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain.

Loneliness is in some ways a natural part of life. A hard move to an area where you don’t know a single face, losing someone you love and embarking on a new season of life are all times when people commonly feel lonely.

Yet, this season of loneliness helps motivate us to reconnect with others and seek out new friendships. The college freshman finds a core group of friends and the girl new to town branches out to her neighbors and coworkers. But what happens when they don’t?

For those who experience loneliness over a prolonged period of time, research shows loneliness can impact their health in an even greater way than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese.

The sad truth is teenagers and young adults are not the only ones negatively affected by the rise of social media. I know adults who took a break from Facebook, because every time they scrolled down their newsfeed, they began feeling insecure about their personal lives and even their parenting skills.

I am not bashing social media or saying we should all cut it out of our lives, but I do think we need to recognize the power it has. Social media keeps us in touch with people we cannot see every day, helps us promote organizations and businesses and share ideas.

We see everyone’s highlight reels on social media. We see the happy moments, the abundance of friends and a fun life. What we don’t see is their bedhead hair, meltdowns from stress or tear-stained faces.

Happy moments are worth sharing on social media, but sometimes it’s okay to keep those moments private. It’s okay to have happy moments and sad moments. It’s all part of being human.

Don’t forget the real world, real friends and real life to live is outside of the screen.

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