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Youth and Social Media: A Structural-Functional Perspective

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1969 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 “The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening” (Orwell, 1955). This quote was written by the famous author George Orwell, who wrote books based on government politics and propaganda during and after world war I and II. He did predict a lot of the future government issues such as technology, and the large increase in global stratification, which is patterns of social inequality in the world as a whole (Burkowicz et al., 2016). Social networking sites (SNS) are social media applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, that use Web 2.0 principles, which relies on the participation of mass users rather than centrally controlled content providers, aggregate and remix content from multiple sources, and more intensely network users and content together (Ahn, 2011). Today, youth are surrounded by it at home, in school, and in public. As more youth use SNS, it can affect their psychological well-being, education, and self-esteem as they grow up. This can be affected by how they present themselves online to strangers and their peers. Finally, technology and SNS are surrounding adolescents, and if not used properly it can cause future risks.

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Social networking sites (SNS) have become so common, that it is considered a cultural norm. A norm is the rules and expectations by which a society guides the behaviour of its members (Burkowicz et al., 2016).  If a person does not have an account, it is frowned upon, and considered un-normal. A national survey was done in 2009, that concluded that 73% teenagers use SNS, which was a 55% increase from 2006 (Ahn, 2011).Today, younger and younger children are starting to get cellphones and tablets, as seen in Appendix A, a photo of adolescents between the ages of 8-10, on their cellphones while waiting, whether it is for the bus or their parents to pick them up after school. Youth who use SNS, assume this role on their accounts which is considered as Dramaturgy, or a dramaturgal analysis. Dramaturgal analysis is Erving Goffman’s term for the study of social interaction in terms of theatrical performance (Burkowicz et al., 2016) or how an individual presents an “idealized” version rather than an authentic version of themselves (Hogan, 2010). In this situation, youth use SNS as “exhibitions”, which is a place for youth to post “artifacts” or pictures, status updates, etc., to show their friends on their profile (Hogan, 2010). Their account, then shows a “self-presentation” of the individual, where they post certain pictures and status updates of who they expect themselves to be and put on an “front-stage act” for SNS, but in reality, that individual may be the opposite as they put themselves to be, which is considered as the “back-stage act” (Hogan, 2010). The people that follow this individual or are friends and family with this individual, are the “audience” for the person’s “self-presentation” on SNS (Hogan, 2010). Youth utilize Erving Goffman’s analysis more often than they should, without realizing it. It has become a norm, that youth post what they think will attract more likes and comments on their post, instead of posting about something that shows their true self.  When it comes to education; the social institution through which society provides its members with important knowledge, including basic facts, job skills, and cultural norms and values (Burkowicz et al., 2016); has changed the way youth learn through the use of smartboards, projectors, and at home computer access to class content. Approximately 70% of school districts block all access to SNS due to fear of student safety (Ahn, 2011). But these site are also blocked due to peer-to-peer issues, inappropriate content and lack of knowledge on privacy. Peer-to-peer issues can arise in person and online. SNS can enhance the issues of bullying through cyberbullying, since the bully can post false, embarrassing and hostile information about the victim, which can eventually lead to self-esteem and psychological well-being issues such as depression, anxiety, severe isolation and possibly suicide (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). Psychological well-being is based on an individual’s satisfaction with life, while self-esteem is based on an individual’s level of confidence in themselves. What researchers found, was that the more a person spent on SNS, they became depressed, lonely and had smaller social circles (Ahn, 2011). This was caused by the individual isolating themselves from friends and family in the real world, which slowly decreased their psychological well-being and self-esteem (Ahn, 2011). The risk of inappropriate content can lead to issues such as sexting. Sexting is the sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs or images via cellphone, computer or other digital devices (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). In 2011, 20% of teens posted or sent nude, or seminude photograph or videos of themselves (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). This can lead to risks of privacy and a possible charge of child pornography. What most youth do not understand is that once something is posted on the internet, it stays on the internet. Even if a photo or video is deleted, someone could have saved it somewhere, and that photo or video of the individual is still relevant and exists to the public. Finally, privacy is a major issue on SNS due to the digital footprint. The digital footprint is when the individuals information exits on the internet due to their result of online activity. Pre-adolescents and pre-teens have a higher risk of lack of privacy, because they do not realize that their digital footprint can affect their future reputation. This can include listed above such as sexting, inappropriate content, and peer-to-peer issues. When it comes to future jobs and education, employers and applications services at colleges and universities, search each individual SNS, to see if the individual is a proper fit for their company or schooling.

The best sociological perspective to explain youth and technology is the structural-functional approach. The structural-functional approach isa framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability (Burkowicz et al., 2016). Over the years, technology has become a major influence in human lives such as health care and medicine, education, networking through texting and social media, and so much more. This generation of youth are the first generation to grow up with technology all around them such as tablets, laptops, cellphones, that they can access the internet and games anywhere. A study in 2011 showed that 22% of teenager access their favourite SNS more than 10 times per day, and more than half of adolescents log on to SNS more than once a day. 65% of teenagers own a cellphone, 54% use them for texting, and 24% use them for instant messaging (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). They provide solidarity and stability to youth using SNS, they need to understand the risks of not used properly.  As well, if a parent does not monitor what their child does on SNS, it could also heighten that child’s risk for future decisions. If a child doesn’t fully understand the risks involved and how it affects their digital footprint is, it can affect their future education and careers in society.

As youth are growing up with technology and social media all around them, I believe that the root to providing a better future to these children, is educating them properly on the use of technology and social media. This means also educating the parents as well, because they have to monitor and make sure that their child is not abusing the use of social media. For children, it is best that public education blocks social media and any other inappropriate websites, to keep kids focused on their education, and to also show them what are acceptable websites, for the future as they grow up. For adults, it is best that they monitor their child while on social media, whether as a friend on their account, or giving them limited screen time during the day. This way, if something does put their child at risk, they know either when or how it happened. Also, there are laws set in place by Congress in the Child’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which does not allow websites to collect information from children that are 13 years or younger (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011).  As well, SNS websites now only allow children of 13 years or older to sign up and create an account (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). These laws may help prevent risks to children’s future decisions, but it also comes down to proper education to the child and the parent to make sure these risks do not occur.

 In conclusion, youth are affected by social networking sites (SNS) because it can affect their self-esteem, psychological well-being, and education. This a structural-functional perspective because they are the first generation to be surrounded by social networking and technology, it can affect them as they grow-up due to their digital footprint and being uneducated about what is appropriate to post, and privacy risks. This is slowly becoming a major issue as younger children are using this technology, and both parents and children should be properly educated.  



Appendix A: Photo



Figure 1: a photo of youth between ages 8-10 on their cellphones while waiting.


1)     Picture Retrieved November 2, 2018, from  https://www.google.ca/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact              =8&ved=2ahUKEwiBi_uHkbbeAhVCn-AKHdcYC-              0QjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fmedium.com%2Fbehavior-              design%2Fsocial-media-has-the-exact-same-negative-effect-on-depression-as-eating-              potatoes-2fcd2c1c4310&psig=AOvVaw03zHtVJV3MZ90Qj22MDH-              e&ust=1541262596542267



  1. Ahn, J. (2011). The Effect of Social Network Sites on adolescents’ Social and Academic development: Current Theories and controversies. Advances in Information Science,62(8), 1435-1445. doi:10.1002/asi
  2. Burkowicz, J., Macionis, J. J., Benoit, C., & Jansson, M. (2016). Pearson custom library: Simon Fraser University, SA 150 Introduction to sociology(6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Solutions.
  3. Hogan, B. (2010). The presentation of Self in the Age of Social Media:Distinguishing Performances and Exhibitions Online. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society,30(6), 377-386. doi:10.1177/0270467610385893
  4. O’Keeffe, G. S., MD, Clarke-Pearson, K., MD, & C. (2011). The Impacts of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. Pediatrics,127(4), 800-804. doi:https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-0054
  5. Orwell, G. (1955). 1984. New York: New American Library.


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