More attention in recent years has focused on the effects of social media on girls, from prepubescence through young adulthood. But questions also have arisen around how being intensely online impacts boys. The inquiry gains even more importance when placed in context of the societal backsliding that men have been experiencing in recent decades.
Inherent differences between boys and girls lead to divergent social media effects. Girls tend to look for and post content focused on self-image, particularly around physical attributes. Wanting to enhance their own attractiveness dovetails with perceiving greater beauty in other girls—the tyranny of the Instagram presets. Boys on the other hand tend to post more about what they are doing rather than how they look.
While this difference keeps boys from the doom cycle of low self-image and incipient self-harm, the isolating nature of being intensely online either via social media or video games has its own effects. Socializing takes a back seat and assimilating with others becomes challenging.
In recent times the high school and college years have seen boys and young men lose ground in academic achievement and advancement. More and more women are attending college as male attendance is on the decline. The trend continues into grad school. And in the workplace, men without college degrees are the locus of the much-discussed “diseases of despair”—depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide.
As in so many things, monocausal explanations fail us. Economic, societal, and historic factors combine with social media and lack of a serious approach to mental health to place boys and men in a precarious spot in America. Politicians and policy makers seem uninterested or shoot wide of the mark. It remains to be seen how long the trends will continue before changes can begin.