Social media During COVID

*This article was originally published in The Snowmass Sun

With the COVID-19 pandemic came a lot more free time in the life of the American teenager.

Before, we may have spent most of our free time hanging out with friends, going to social gatherings and participating in clubs and extracurriculars. Now, many of us are limited in our choices when it comes to how we can spend our free time.

Social media fills the void — and we’re turning to it more than ever.

The use of social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok has skyrocketed over the past year: a survey published by the research company Digital Commerce 360 in September of last year found that 73% of respondents had increased the time they spend on social media during the pandemic.

Without opportunities for in-person interactions, Aspen High School junior Ellie Dangler, said she uses social media primarily to pass time during and after class and when she has some downtime to talk to her friends.

“I use Snapchat the most,” Dangler said. “I think this year it has definitely helped me stay more connected with friends who I am not able to see everyday because of online school and COVID-19.”

As a teen living in Aspen, where there are tight restrictions on how many people I can see and where I can see those people, I have found myself spending more and more time on my phone to compensate for how little time I am spending with other people and how much more free time I have.

Social media is not only a way to pass time but it is also a way for me to socialize with people and see the lives of those outside of my closest friends and family. During this time, I have been able to stay connected with people that I am not able to see in person right now, like my friend Kira Gardner, a junior at Winters High School in California.

While Gardner said she does not spend a lot of time on social media every day, she still reaps some benefits from it.

“Social media has helped me stay connected.” Gardner said.

With the time that COVID-19 has freed up in my life, I have also been able to reconnect with people and friends that I may not have reached out to without social media.

And because there isn’t much traveling going on right now, social media is also a way for many people to escape the confines of their home or their town and see other parts of the world — a way to escape mentally and emotionally.

Grace Peterson, a junior at Aspen High School, was supposed to go on college tours this year but wasn’t able to due to the impacts of the pandemic. Even though she couldn’t travel, online connections allowed her to get a sense of the experience.

“Social media has allowed me to connect with college reps or students who I know go to any of the universities I’m most interested in, which has allowed me to continue the college search process,” Peterson said.

The pandemic has caused a lot of stress from all the unknowns and impacts of the virus, including often-changing school schedules on the hybrid model. Social media is a way for some people to relax and partake in a pretty mindless activity, which is something I’m grateful for.