Students to debate social media's effects on health

February 7, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Is social media good or bad for your health?

That question will be debated by several Martinsville High School students March 16-18 at the Virginia State Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) Conference in Williamsburg.

Thirty MHS students will attend the conference and participate in 30 competitions, including written tests on topics such as nutrition and medical terminology; speaking events; and team events involving a biomedical debate team, public health emergency preparedness team and forensic medicine team, according to Marie Stone, HOSA adviser and health and medical sciences teacher at MHS.

Martinsville High School’s HOSA group has formed a biomedical debate team that includes sophomores De’Jah Williams, Emmye Myers and Tristan Wooldridge, and junior Colby Sarver. At the conference, those students will debate whether social media is good or bad for one’s health.

Williams and Myers are preparing to argue the negative effects of social media use, while Wooldridge and Sarver are preparing to argue the pros.

To prepare to argue the cons in a four-minute speech, Williams and Myers conducted research and emailed local doctors.

They found that in 2009, social media contributed to 20 percent of divorces nationwide and resulted, in some cases, in cyberbullying that led to teen suicides.

Williams said researchers found that the more time a young girl spends on social media, the greater the risk she has of developing an eating disorder.

Since the introduction of social media, sexting — or sending sexual messages by phone — also has become a problem.

According to the students’ research, 20 percent of teens have sent nude or semi-nude videos or images to another person. Some teens are being charged with felony possession of child pornography as a result, Williams said.

Myers said local doctors told her they have seen an increase in mood changes in people who use social media.

As they did the research, the students’ perceptions of social media changed. Williams said she knew social media had bad effects on people but didn’t realize how many.

“I myself can’t go a day without Twitter,” she said.

Myers realized that others can twist words posted on social media and that what is posted will not go away, she said.

Wooldridge and Sarver weren’t expecting to find any pros to social media use listed online because they had heard about only the negative effects. However, they found several positives during their research.

They discovered that social media websites allow people to be part of support groups, such as to get fit or quit smoking. Wooldridge mentioned a social media website called Quitter, which links together those trying to quit smoking.

Being a member of an online support group doubles a person’s chances of achieving her goals, Wooldridge said.

Other social media sites, such as LinkedIn, allow employees of different companies to dialogue and exchange ideas. That site also helps young professionals prepare for potential employment by posting résumés, Wooldridge said.

Another positive is that social media allows people who aren’t particularly outgoing in person to show their personalities in another way, which could help them be more comfortable around others face-to-face, Sarver said.

In their research, the students found that 99 percent of teens use the Internet, 77 percent use social media, and 69 percent of those who use social media said that their peers have not used the websites as platforms for cyberbullying.

Social media also can help with self-diagnosing. Wooldridge found a story online about a mother who posted pictures of her son’s undiagnosed rash on social networking site Facebook. One of the mother’s friends commented on one of the pictures and told the mother exactly what the rash was, the story said.

Hospitals also use social media to release health information, share blogs and engage with patients. Wooldridge found that 3,087 hospitals in the U.S. have social media websites.

Sarver doesn’t see how social media can be that bad, and he said the research he and Wooldridge did solidified that opinion.

The key to making sure social media doesn’t become a bad thing is not to take comments from others too seriously and to delete unwanted posts entirely, Wooldridge said.

If cyberbullying does occur, there are online chat rooms and support groups for victims to use, she added.

Throughout the school year, the team members have practiced debating. They will practice debating social media in class before the conference, Stone said.

In the debate, the students can’t say “I” because their statements have to be based on research instead of opinion, Myers said.

Also at the state conference, seven MHS students will receive the Barbara James Service Award for completing 50 hours of community service, according to Stone.

The MHS HOSA chapter will be recognized for holding a National HOSA Week in November at the school and for donating $100 to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as part of a National Service Project.

About 900 students from across the state will attend the conference, Stone said. Any student who places first, second or third will be eligible to attend a national conference in June in Orlando, Fla.


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