The Unknown Pressures Behind Social Media

Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Chandler King is a 12-year-old gymnastics phenom in the making. She trains 36 hours weekly and moved from Michigan to Texas in order to train at the gym owned by Simone Biles’s family, the World Champions Centre. Her incredible strength and skill level has earned her a following of 168 thousand followers on Instagram and recognition from the Olympic Channel. 

If there’s one thing you should know about her, it’s that she has her eye on the 2024 Paris Olympics. She would be just a few months off from 17 at this event, 2 years younger than Simone Biles when she competed at her first Olympics. She is currently competing as a level nine gymnast in the Junior Olympic Program (the highest level before elite is 10).  She has excelled in her sport, even most recently winning first place overall at Chow’s Challenge (a meet sponsored by Gabby Douglas’s former coach). But, what could the effects be when putting the idea in a 12-year-old’s head that the Olympics is the next goal, especially with such a substantial social media following?

Chandler recognizes the sacrifices that her family made when they decided to move for her gymnastics career. It is fairly common for Olympic Athletes to have to relocate in order to train at the level that best leads them to success.   But many implications come with this big decision.

Chandler has a lot of people watching and waiting for updates about her gymnastics career. She is also well known for her gymnastics related raps she has posted on Instagram, and she has a growing following on Tik Tok of 26.7 thousand. The Child Mind Institute states that there is a link between social media use and mood issues in the youth. According to a study conducted by CNN, examining social media use among 13-year-olds found participants who check social media 50-100 times daily are 37% more distressed that others.  

TK Paisant, CHS senior and student athlete, gives his perspective on the matter.

“It could kill her mentally, but as of right now she is too young to understand what that pressure means. It could potentially cause her to end up not liking the sport because people may just know her from social media and not from who she actually is.”

With thousands of viewers liking and commenting, the approval never ceases. This could either boost her self esteem (potentially to an unhealthy level) or create a false sense of approval, making it harder and harder to satisfy the need for it.  She is not the only person subject to this dilemma. The reason why we feel the uncontrollable need is because it is a behavioral addiction. 

Addictive social media tendencies can be characterized similarly to any other type of addiction; a mood change occurring when the need is satisfied, and withdrawal symptoms when it isn’t, and in this case, one may feel physically or emotionally uncomfortable. Studies have proven that use of social media and receiving an acknowledgement (likes, retweets, reposts) lights up the same part of the brain that drugs do, and triggers the same chemical reaction as cocaine. 

We should be concerned for not just athletes, who have their eyes set on huge goals that require as much physical commitment as emotional, but also for the general population of youth and young adults. These impressionable minds are experiencing a crucial period of growth but it is impeded by these habits. Not everyone displays addictive tendencies, but everyone does experience a rush of dopamine when they use apps, making them more inclined to use them and therefore more distracted from the real world. Because social media is centered around presenting one’s best self and showing their accomplishments, it raises the percent of time that people talk about themselves from 30-40% to 80%. When the dopamine is released in your brain from receiving feedback on a post about yourself, you are encouraged to keep doing this. Athletes who are often competing will be subject to this if they continually post their accomplishments.