Adolescents in India constitute more than one-fifth of the total population. They are a highly wired generation who cannot imagine their lives without Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Statistical use of social media in India
The use of social media by teenagers occurs simultaneously with their developing identity, emerging sexuality, physical development, and moral consciousness. India is the third biggest country in terms of internet users, with a high social media and mobile penetration.
According to a report published in The Hindu, “Across India, there are 143 million users of social media. Urban areas witnessed a growth of 36% with 118 million users as of April 2015. On the other hand, the number for rural India stood at 25 million, up from close to 12 million last year, showing a growth of 100%. Facebook emerged as the leading social media website with 96% of urban users accessing it, followed by Google Plus (61%), Twitter (43%) and LinkedIn (24%). The largest segment of users was college students (34%) followed by young men (27%), and the school children (12%).”
According to the McAfee’s Tweens, Teens, & Technology Report, 2014, 70% of internet connected youth in India spend more than five hours on the internet in a normal week. In terms of social networking platforms, Facebook is by far the most popular site (93%), followed by YouTube (87%) and WhatsApp (79%). An eye-opening trend is that half (52%) of India’s youth access their social media accounts even at schools; 57% of them being between 8 and 12 years and 47% of them being between 13 and 17 years of age. In 2019, it is estimated that there will be around 258.27 million social network users in India, up from close to 168 million in 2016. This study was published in the International Journal of Indian Psychology and was conducted by Dr. Shinde Vijaykumar Balbhim with the aim of examining the impact of social networking addiction on adolescent health.
Impact of social media: pros and cons
Social media helps in better collaboration and communication between teachers and students. Access to online resources helps students to learn better and faster. A class X student, Anirban Dasgupta, says, “It’s easier for me to study. If I miss classes, my friends provide me the notes over WhatsApp.” Social networking also helps to inform and empower individuals. It allows people to communicate with friends. According to a recent study, 57% online teens report making new friends online. Political and social awareness is being developed through the social media.
However, constant browsing and replying to online posts and blogs takes the user’s attention away from his core work. Unfortunately, social media networks are adversely affecting the Indian education system. These sites often deflect teenagers towards non-educational, immoral, and unsuitable actions. Biswadeep Chakraborty, a high school Physics teacher, comments, “Earlier, I used to get a batch full of brilliant students. But now the quality of the students has declined. No one really talks of new experiments and inventions.”
Cyber bullying or use of electronic communication to bully someone by sending intimidating or threatening messages is common. This causes emotional trauma and sometimes even leads to suicide. According to a McAfee report, two-thirds (66%) of youth in India have had some experience with cyber-bullying. Of that number, 33% said they had witnessed cyberbullying of others, 46% said the victims deleted their social media accounts, and 42% said the victims became less social. Excessive online presence can be correlated with personality and brain disorders. Poor social skills and narcissistic tendencies or even the need for instant pleasures with addictive behaviours and other emotional issues can be related to internet abuse. Youngsters are prone to feel isolated, disconnected and face higher risks of depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders. The National Altitudinal Poll conducted way back in 2006 had revealed that 85% of the participating parents reported that among all forms of media, the internet posed the greatest threat to children. Subrata Mukherjee, father of a Class XII student, says, “My daughter is too inclined towards Facebook and Instagram. It affects her studies and we can do nothing about it. She is extremely adamant and never listens to us.”
On July 29, 2017, 14-year-old Manpreet Singh in Mumbai allegedly committed suicide by jumping off the terrace of his apartment. It was believed to be the consequence of a deadly online game called the Blue Whale challenge. Reportedly created by a former convict in Russia, it is said to psychologically provoke players to indulge in daring, self-destructive tasks for 50 days before finally taking the “winning” step of killing themselves. Following the steps of the Blue Whale challenge, the similar Momo game is also spreading widely.
A way out
The growth of social media sites shows an important change in the behaviour of Indian students and teenagers. There is a negative relationship found between social networking addiction and adolescent health. Social networking addiction is a strong predictor of health concerns and erosion of cultural values. Parents, teachers, and caregivers need to educate teenagers about social media and orient them towards the correct ways to use it. Dr. Prathama Chaudhuri, a renowned counsellor in Kolkata, informed, “Most of the parents come to me to treat their children, especially in the age group of 16-20 years. Recurrent symptoms of depression and lack of self-confidence are prevalent among them. Such issues can be linked to social media addiction.” Health awareness programmes should be frequently conducted in schools and colleges in order to protect this generation from cybercrimes and prevent their moral, physical, and health degradation.