How the Media Impacts Teenagers in Unhealthy Ways

Hot, angry tears slashed down her pale cheeks as she touched the glass in front of her. And as she did, she couldn’t help but stare. She stared at her distorted reflection, at her eyes, emotionless and bloodshot. She stared at the long waves of brown tumbling down her back, hanging in limp clumps. She stared at her dull, lifeless skin, trailing a finger down the cold flesh. She shook, faced with the cursed, dangerous thing, her worst enemy. The mirror. Staggering back, her knees wobbled violently, unable to support her weight.

She choked back a strangled sob when she gingerly touched the bare skin, pinching her sides, grimacing at the sight of her ribs protruding out. She cringed at the person she’d become, averting her eyes from the dark, black circles that tauntingly rimmed her eyes, a constant reminder of the endless nights tossing and turning, wishing she could become like them. Tears blurred her vision, and falling to the floor, she screamed, eyes wide with terror. She balled her fists, cracked fingernails digging into her arm. Gritting her teeth, she kicked down the mirror, pushing it down, slamming it hard against the floor.

It fell to the floor with a heavy crash, glass fragments flying everywhere. Bits of shards poked her skin, forming tiny beads of crimson. Uncaring, she squeezed her eyes shut. The monster inside her raged as she screamed, baring her teeth and punching every part of the mirror she could reach, stamping and smashing the crumbling pieces. She pounded, her eyes watery and wild, face red, fingers twitching. Cheeks slick with tears, she cradled her bleeding fingers, groping around for more glass to destroy. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Perhaps they were right.

The media impacts teenagers in unhealthy ways

An estimated one thousand women die every year of anorexia. When a child hits the age of 18, he must have seen about 200,000 acts of violence alone. In a survey conducted from 9 and 10 year olds, 40% have tried to lose weight. A study found that adolescent girls were more fearful of gaining weight than getting cancer, nuclear war, or losing their parents.

Whether they accept it or not, the media plays a big role in the lives of teenagers, and end up doing more harm than good. The media is like a wild, dangerous fire that rages and burns so fiercely it can rip down whole cities filled with hearts. It can spread. It can burn, rip apart, and brutally shred. The media can destroy innocent lives. And it can change you, for the better, or for the good.

I believe the media impacts teenagers in unhealthy ways. The media is essential and important in a teenager’s life and whether it’s from the television, films, music, or even magazines, the media deeply influences teenagers, who, still trying to navigate the world are prone to falling into its trap. The media lowers the self esteem of many, images of an unrealistic yet ‘ideal’ body firmly being pressed into the minds of many, and the increasing ignorance of portraying men and women from all racial background and/or portraying them in stereotypical ways causes immature stereotyping amongst young teenagers, which could also causes self esteem problems amongst ethnic minorities.

Also, the dangerously casual portrayal of violence, ranging from fistfights to downright murders, along with over sexualized TV sitcoms, causes conflict and confusion, leading the youth to make grave decisions. The media also has an impact on the physical wellbeing of teenagers. Obesity, a rising problem has increased due to long periods devoted to the television. Overall, the media has negative effects on a teenager, causing both emotional and physical damage to these developing beings.

“Television and other media represent one of the most important and under recognized influences on children and adolescents’ health and behavior in the 1990’s. Their impact should be eliciting serious concern, not just from parents and educators, but from physicians, public health advocates and politicians as well,” The Journal of Pediatrics, 1999.

Throughout the media, messages of a ‘perfect body’, which defines you, influences youth deeply. By portraying men and women with unrealistic bodies, causes many teenagers to turn against their bodies, and in turn, aching for a super slim physique to ‘fit in’. Yet, in reality, most models weigh an average of 23% less than the average women. Refusing to portray women with different body types causes self-doubt.

The belief that being beautiful, or popular is defined by your weight is another message being spurted out. This distorted image can cause risky disorders. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and associated disorders, 69% of girls between fifth and twelfth reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body type.

Some many argue that young teenagers should have the self-esteem to ignore the discriminative portrayal or that dissatisfaction with their bodies is largely due to comparison with peers. However, social media, is used as a tool for peer competition and was introduced to connect with peers. Therefore, the media ultimately affects teenagers’ opinions about themselves.

The increasing ignorance of portraying women and men from all racial backgrounds and depicting them in stereotypical ways, particularly in the film industry, causes lack of diversity and creates thoughts and preconceived notions for young people, who are sensitive and affected by the media. It could be said that the media only conveys the thoughts of people and society, and does not intend to insult ethnic minorities, just to poke fun at the, and that the media simply reflects and reproduces the thoughts of people. However, the media is responsible for engraving thoughts in the minds of millions of people and shapes the future. And if that’s the case, it is up to the media to show diversity instead of reflecting the already existing, and negative thoughts of society.

The media’s casual portrayal (through movies, music, the internet, etc.) of unhealthy behavior such as drinking, drugs and smoking can confuse teens and due to peer pressure could lead to them giving into self harming methods and impulsive actions. Also, because of the way violence is depicted, many teens develop aggressive attitudes. Teens may sometimes find it hard to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not, and what’s okay, and what’s not.

A real life example of this is the shocking amount of school shootings that have occurred, most being done by teenagers. The media normalizes violence. Some may develop fears of being attacked, causing mental instability. According to a biennial study released in 2005 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the number of sexual scenes on TV has increased since 1998. Studies have assessed the association between that, and adolescent behavior.

But here’s the apparent weakness. By portraying things that happen in real life, the media is clearly a reflection of the society. Some say the media doesn’t try to encourage teens to adopt unhealthy behavior, nor does it attempt to trigger compulsive reactions. It’s not up to the media to assist teens in differentiating real life from illusions. This leads me to the obvious fact that the media holds immense power, which should NOT be misused.

The problem of obesity, especially a rising concern in the United States, has increased significantly due to large periods of time spent browsing sites, and flipping through channels- instead of engaging in physical activity. Obesity has negative effects on the child, both mentally and physically, and falling into the media’s lure can be a harmful addiction. The television is nowadays believed to replace physical activity. It can increase the risk of acquiring heart diseases as an adult.

It could be said that obesity is not directly influences by the media and that it lies in your hands, and that it’s up to you to control it, leading the belief that it’s solely the responsibility of parents and teachers. The media might just be an entertainment platform, yes, but here’s the thing: The media aims to appeal to a certain age group, with coming of age TV sitcoms and fashion magazines. The media holds the rapt attention to those much more likely to be seduced by its ways- a vicious trap which could lead to serious consequences. There is no denying the media is clearly aware of this, and it’s why they target teenagers.

The media plays a huge role in the lives of teenagers across the world. The media has a choice to either impact the youth positively, or negatively, the latter of which has been rocketing. The media is capable of turning people against themselves, causing young girls and boys to obsessively develop disorders, capable of causing out lashes and vicious stereotyping, capable of unintentionally causing violence in everyday life, and capable of causing teens to fall into its illusion and make decisions that they may come to regret. If the influence of the media is so powerful shouldn’t it be used wisely? Shouldn’t the media be used to spread positivity and love, instead of hate, discrimination and conflict?

The media has the power to destroy lives, or enhance them in the best way possible. It’s all up to US to educate the youth of today, and teach them to appreciate themselves, and others, before the media forms a twisted image in their mind. We can’t let the fate of the generations to come rest in the media’s hands. It’s up to us. It’s up to you. Will you let the media continue to misuse their power, or will you take it into your own hands?

I took down the mirror today
Smashed it to smithereens
Puked out the crimson wetness
Of my blood
Onto its shiny emptiness
Because I could sense the whirlpool beneath me
The approach of my wrath
All the fight I pushed down
Rising up at last

In my face I start to see
All the imperfections
I refused to acknowledge before
My eyes,
They’re too sleepy
My nose too big

In my curves
I do not see
The beauty I saw before
Not the delicate bands
I loved before
Instead all I see
Are ugly scaffolds of
Bunched up body fat

In my smile I do not see
The softness
I savored
The slight curve of my lips
Seems like a grimace

The scars on my skin
Remind me of weaknesses
Screaming my poor defenses

My skin
Feels rough
Under my tanned hands
I cringe at the hair on my knuckles
Little bursting sprouts
And try not to gag

In my hair
I just see a wild jungle
A mess of random strands
Not like the neat strings
I see in those magazines

I do not see
The things I saw before
Back when I loved myself.

So I swept away the broken shards
Of teetering, tangled glass
Wiped away the blood
Screamed so loud
The whole city probably heard
Bought myself a new mirror
So I could loathe myself again
And watched the cycle
Begin again.

Mitali”s