Eighth graders gone viral

In between the laughter and sobs, Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade raises vital questions about social media use in adolescence.

The Vogue Theatre was brimming with the hustle and bustle of eager moviegoers last Thursday. This was the second Sackville Film Society showing of the academic year. Eighth Grade, written and directed by Bo Burnham, took the screen.

In the film, 13-year-old Kayla tries to navigate the turbulent waters that are adolescence. Kayla uses social media to escape from the outside world. On her online blog, she advises her viewers on how to be confident, popular and cool – traits that she desperately wants to have.

I was captivated by this movie from start to finish. It made me curious about social media use in adolescence, so I sought out various perspectives on this topic. Is more harmful for adolescents to have social media or not?

I asked Austin Allen, a fourth-year English student, for his thoughts on this topic after seeing the film. He highlighted issues with body image and instant gratification.

“Our minds are so accustomed to instant gratification that we cannot handle things that might take a little more time,” Allen said. “I find that social media has created an inability in young people to solve their problems rationally.”

On body image, Allen said, “Social media serves as a sort of 21st-century space for romanticization: You see the most perfect and beautiful forms of anything and everything you can imagine.” He added that “It makes it seem incorrect when you look in the mirror and see a human body.”

Allen also mentioned some positive aspects of social media use in adolescence, noting the impact that social media can have on inclusivity. “I love the way that social media can bring together the people who have been marginalized,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier for young people to come out of their shell and talk to someone new.”

Brydie Cavanagh, a fifth-year English student and parent to a nine-year-old son, noted key effects that social media use in adolescence can have on personal relationships and generational influence.

“People in general are investing more time in social media than in personal relationships,” said Cavanagh. “You can’t expect the next generation, who is using their peers as an example, to act any differently.

“I think this is more detrimental for adolescents because those are the years when they are supposed to socialize with other people and find a sense of community,” she added.

Cavanagh used Linkedin as an example for some of the upsides to social media use: “Social media has become a tool in the workforce. If they aren’t able to use social media it may hurt them in their future employment.”

While there are negative effects of social media use during the adolescent years, there are also obvious benefits that cannot be ignored. Social media has become a powerful and resilient force in our world, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. How adolescents can practice healthy social media use is something that needs to be explored. As Allen put it, “Social media has a very long list of negative qualities, but its ability to give those of us who have ever felt alone and isolated a space to interact with other people we relate to is an amazing thing.” Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade introduces us to how social media can take over the lives of today’s youth.

Jane Rempel
Jane Rempel is a fourth-year English major and drama minor from the Vancouver, BC area. She has three friends and one cat.