Social Media's Impact on Teen Identity

If I’m gonna be completely honest, I probably spend too much time on social media. I specifically remember one evening, where I was sitting on my chair, endlessly scrolling through YouTube Shorts, when it hit me: is any of this stuff I’m doing online actually adding value to my life? Whether it’s maintaining my daily streaks on Snapchat or actively engaging in nearly every conversation with a sizable community on Discord, I probably waste way too much time on these platforms. However, it often doesn’t feel like just a way to kill time. It’s a way to connect with friends who are far away, to stay in the loop with the latest trends, and even to learn about the world from different perspectives. Social media has become my window to experiences I might not have access to otherwise, allowing me to feel part of a broader community. A great example of this would be the many Discord communities I’ve joined over the years, such as the Discord client modding community, or a handful of random Undertale fangame servers, both of which led me to meeting some of my closest online friends. Despite its drawbacks, it’s these moments of genuine connection and discovery that make the time spent seem worthwhile.

Have you ever had those moments where you’re watching a YouTube video on your tablet or phone or whatever, and right in the middle of you laughing at some dumb antic that just happened on the screen, it cuts to black, showing your reflection on the darkened screen? This stark contrast between the curated joy in the video you just watched to the goofy little reflection of yourself often makes me think: How different is who we are online from who we are in real life? Social media is great for sharing the cool stuff we do, but it also feels like we have to be perfect all the time. We end up just showing off the best parts of our lives and hiding the rest. The tough part is staying real when it feels like everyone only cares about the flashy stuff. How do we keep being ourselves when there’s so much pressure to show only the good moments

The trick is just to be real and know yourself, simple as that. Often, when someone posts something online, it’s only the best parts of their life at any given moment, not the entire story. Way back when I was a part of all of these random Discord servers, I used to always try to be the “funny guy”, sacrificing mine and other peoples mental well-being just to entertain everyone else in the community. I was barely even a teenager when I first tried copying various YouTubers known for their comedic antics in order to entertain. Getting out of that era in my life taught me an important lesson about the fake personas we put on online, and the glittering fragments of our lives that we showcase for recognition.

Reflecting on those days, I realized that it’s much healthier to only bother following accounts that can actually inspire you, make you feel good, or teach you something, as opposed to accounts that are all about looks or fame. Embarrassingly enough, I used to watch all sorts of YouTubers that would spend 90% of their videos flaunting their wealth, like Jake Paul and other related channels. Once I began unfollowing those accounts and ignoring their videos in my recommendations, I noticed that my outlook on life started to change a little, mostly by shifting my aspirations towards non-materialistic goals.

I’d also suggest putting limits on how long you can spend on specific social media apps, especially apps that let you scroll endlessly through short-form content such as TikTok and Instagram Reels. I for one started putting time limits on how long I was allowed to scroll through Youtube Shorts, cutting it down to a mere 10 minutes before I decided to stop watching shorts entirely. And honestly, watch out for brainrot — it’s no joke. Spending too much time on just one thing, especially bite-sized content that keeps you scrolling forever, can really mess with your head. It makes it tough to focus or get deep into stuff that needs more of your brainpower.

If you feel like all these changes to your online life are overwhelming, just remember that there’s a world outside of your digital screens. I’m practically just telling all of you to touch grass by doing this, but I believe that it’s a genuine point. Try to make more time for offline activities that you enjoy or want to get better at. Whether it’s picking up a new hobby, spending more time outdoors, or just hanging out with friends face-to-face, these experiences often enrich your life in ways that your phone never could. An example of a hobby that I started to pick up was long-distance biking. Back in the summer of 2021, my Dad and his friends began biking as a group to various places in Ontario, and encouraged me to come with them. Not having anything else to do, I decided to join them, and found out that biking is actually a really fun and calming activity that also helps me get exercise and time away from my screen. From that point on, I’d take my friends on bike rides around Ontario, or even sometimes just go on solo bike rides while listening to music.

An added plus to spending all of that time outside and away from your screen is that it gives you things to talk about when you hop back on your social media platforms. Remember, I’m not necessarily saying to quit social media entirely but rather to begin using it in ways that add value to your life. For the unfortunate few who can’t easily spend time with friends or family as a healthy replacement for using social media, there are still plenty of ways to enrich your life offline and reduce digital overload. Consider diving into solo activities that can be both rewarding and fulfilling, like learning a new instrument or cooking a meal. Reading books is probably one of the best ways to escape the digital realm and expand your horizons without the need for a screen and can help you regain your lost attention spans from all those hours of mindlessly scrolling. Although I may be a bit hypocritical in this sense, as I struggle to pick up new hobbies outside of things on my computer, that should just give you even more motivation to be better than I am.

Let’s get real for a second - most of us can step outside, even if it’s for a short breather. The thing is, it usually isn’t our bodies that hold us back, it’s our mindset and mentality. Of course, there’s always the unfortunate few that don’t have the option of going outside due to specific reasons. But for the rest of us, the great outdoors should be viewed as a method of reconnecting ourselves in a fresh setting, as opposed to using it to take Instagram-worthy photos or trying to randomly run-in with some friends of yours. Sometimes, it’s just feeling the sun on your face or the breeze through your hair that can totally flip your mood. I specifically love the smell of the air rushing onto my face whenever I’m biking on some major street on a nice day. We’re not aiming for a lifestyle overhaul overnight, but rather just introducing nature into our lives bit-by-bit can really spice things up.

Think about it: stepping outside for a quick bit, or even just catching your breath for a few minutes, can be the key to rebooting your whole mood. The morning air’s freshness, the afternoon sun’s warmth, these things can all be a total game-changer for how you feel depending on your mood. Next time, instead of scrolling through your phones during a quick break from whatever you’re doing, try to give the outdoors a shot. My friends and I implemented a little policy in which every time we’d lose 3 games of Brawlhalla or TF2 or whatever in a row, we’d take a short break. I began using these breaks to take a quick stretch on my porch. A little sunshine or moment of quiet can do wonders for your mind, offering a peaceful break from the digital world.

Wrapping things up, it’s obvious that social media is a double-edged sword. It brings us together but also pulls us into a negative world of comparison and endless scrolling. By consciously choosing who we follow and what kind of content we view, setting clear boundaries for our usage, and by remembering that there’s a world outside of your screens, we can start to get a grip on our digital life. The entire point of this post was to help you reach that sweet spot where social media adds actual value to your life instead of taking over. It’s all about letting ourselves explore, connect, and thrive, both online and outside.