Several years ago, my husband, John, and I talked three couples into joining us on an adventure trip to Costa Rica.  The trip included a 40-mile mountain bike ride, white-water rafting, zip lining, a trip to an active volcano, hiking, and sea kayaking.

One of the highlights of our trip were the three days we spent in Drake Bay.  Our book described Drake Bay: this remote place is a nature lover’s paradise, where dense jungle meets the Pacific Ocean.  Set in a thriving, biologically diverse lowland rainforest, Drake Bay offers a huge variety of pristine beaches, lush jungle, and exotic wildlife.  Considered to be ‘Costa Rica’s last frontier”, Drake Bay is literally the last vestige of civilization before the landscape turns to the wild, untouched jungle.”

Wild was a good description.  Even getting there was a challenge.  We had to take a couple of single engine planes over the Talamanca Mountains to the West coast.  These planes were so small we had to be weighed to see if we weighed too much for the planes to take off!  They were tiny.  The thought of flying over a mountain range in these planes was a bit intimidating.  When I got into my seat, I tried to put my seatbelt on, but it came off in my hands!  The pilot climbed in, and without doing any instrument checks, took off down a short runway with the plane swaying.  I was terrified.

As we crossed over the mountains, in addition to the normal turbulence that occurs when you just barely clear mountain peaks, all of a sudden, a glass canister with some sort of instrument that was imbedded in the windshield flew out and violently hit the pilot in the head.  As the engine sputtered, the pilot cursed and said, “I hate it when this happens!”  I was even more terrified, silently praying non-stop and promising a lifetime of service to God if He would just let us land safely!

We did land safely and as we shakily exited the aircraft, we were immediately entranced by being surrounded by a pristine jungle.  There were monkeys everywhere, engaged in all kinds of antics.  There was a small lodge surrounded by bungalows.  Each couple was assigned a bungalow.  Meals were served family style at large tables in the lodge.

Each morning, the Director of the lodge would pass out a list of activities available.  One morning our group decided to sea kayak over to an island that was known for a beautiful waterfall on top of a steep mountain.

The sea kayaking took far longer than had been expected and was far more taxing than we had anticipated.  After fighting sea waves for what seemed to be hours, we finally arrived on the island beach.  Exhausted and with aching arms, we flopped down on the sand. After recovering, we gathered to eat our lunches which were soggy and salty from the sea waves.  But what a paradise we had discovered!

We easily found the steep, rocky path up to the waterfall.  We didn’t dare leave our lifejackets on the beach with the boats for fear they might be stolen, so we wore them on the hike.  The path was steep and a bit precarious.  This was in the tropics!  It was brutally hot.  The air was thick with humidity.  We were sweating like dogs.  But we finally arrived at one of the most beautiful waterfalls we’d ever seen.  It had a large, pristine pool at the base.  We stripped down to our swimsuits and dove in.  It was so refreshing! We swam and splashed and played around for a long time.  But finally, we pulled our clothes back on over our swimsuits and headed back down the steep rocky path.

But the long sea kayak journey and the hot steep hike in the heat had taken their toll.  The path was still rocky and difficult.  We were all dragging.  One person suggested that since we had our lifejackets, we ought to put them on, climb into the river that ran from the waterfall, and float our way back to the beach.  It seemed a brilliant suggestion.  Within minutes we were all floating, laughing and joking about how clever this solution was.  We splashed and laughed all the way back down to the beach where we jumped in our kayaks and began our arduous journey back over the waves to Drake Bay.

That evening at dinner, all the groups reported on their day’s activities.  When we told them about kayaking to the island, hiking to the waterfall, and then floating back to the beach, the director of the lodge had an interesting reaction.  The color seemed to drain out of his face.  He stammered, “Y-y-you floated in down that river?” We all nodded in agreement.  He said, “That river is full of crocodiles!”

Whoa!!!!  We had been swimming with crocs!

A chill ran down the back of my spine.  We had been fools.  We all knew that there were crocodiles in Costa Rica.  As I thought about us splashing and laughing as we floated down the river, I couldn’t help but think, Well we certainly were making enough sound to awaken any hungry crocs! We had been unfathomably lucky.

It makes me wonder if I have unwittingly been swimming with hungry crocs in other circumstances.

I have thought about this experience many times in the years since.  It makes me wonder if I have unwittingly been swimming with hungry crocs in other circumstances.  I can’t help thinking about the internet.  Are we splashing and laughing as we float down the offerings on the internet?  Ignoring the obvious crocs of pornography, predators, privacy issues, and gaming addiction—I wonder about social media.  As we while away our time laughing and splashing, following friends and family, following people we’ve never met, I can’t help but wonder if are there hungry crocs lurking just underneath the surface of the water?

Psychologists tell us that the irony is that “social” media is making us unsocial!  Face-to-face interactions are becoming fewer and further between.  In fact, many psychologists are now calling this the age of loneliness.  Even the idea of friends has even morphed.  Friends used to be close relationships that helped make life rich and meaningful.  Friends are now defined as someone who you may or may not know, perhaps have never even met, but who leaves a like on your post.  These are not the friends who you would contact for support or help in an emergency or a personal tragedy.

The internet has many sites that detail studies on social media use and mental well-being.  Here are just a few studies (that I have shamelessly copied word for word):

  • The U.S. Surgeon General issued a warning in May 2023 about the dangers of social media and its affect on mental health of adolescents. He notes that at crucial periods of adolescent brain development, social media use is predictive of decreases in life satisfaction, as well as additional concerns around body image, sleep issues, and much more.1
  • Lancetstudy published in 2018 found that people who check Facebook late at night were more likely to feel depressed and unhappy.2
  • Another 2018 study found that the less time people spend on social media, the less symptoms of depression and loneliness they felt.3
  • A 2015 study found that Facebook users who felt envy while on the networking site were more likely to develop symptoms of depression.4
  • Prior to social media and the internet, children only had to worry about bullying on school grounds, for the most part. But social media has given bullies a new way to torment their victims. With just one click, bullies can circulate a video of their target being ridiculed, beaten up, or otherwise humiliated. People can swarm a peer’s social media page, leaving negative comments or spreading misinformation. In some cases, victims of bullying have committed suicide.5
  • A large-scale study of young adults in the U.S. found that occasional users of social media are three times less likely to experience symptoms of depression than heavy users.6
  • Another interesting study found that the mere presence of an iPhone can alter the quality of conversation among friends. The conversation becomes less meaningful, and the participants are measurably less empathetic to each other.  The mere presence!  You might want to think about leaving your phone in the car or at least out of sight the next time you meet a friend for lunch! 7
  • Social Media is having a distorting effect on values and mental health.People who post a lot become self-centered. Narcissism is increasing.  Comparing Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) rates over decades shows there is currently a dramatic increase in the population worldwide.  People in their 20s are now more than three times as likely to have experienced NPD as people over 60.  Social media is “all about me”.  This affects how families, communities, businesses and even countries interact. 8  I can’t help but think of a prophecy that one of the signs of the last days is that people will become lovers of their own selves. (2 Tim 3:2)
  • Social Media fuels dissatisfaction with your life. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) becomes a source of unhappiness as you compare your life to all the exciting vacations, adventures, parties, shopping finds, etc. that other people seem to be having as they post non-stop.  You now know every  party you were not invited to!  FOMO is a main type of problematic attachment to social media and is associated with a range of negative life experiences and feelings, such as a lack of sleep, reduced life competency, emotional tension, negative effects on physical well-being, anxiety and a lack of emotional control.   FOMO affects people of all age groups and across social media platforms.  It can create feelings of social exclusion, unhappiness, low self-esteem, self-loathing, and serious depression. 9
  • Sleep deprivation: The average U.S. adult spends 3.5 hours on social media before bed each day, according to one survey. A recent study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 80% of U.S. adults report losing sleep because of social media use. That increases to 93% among those ages 18 to 25.  Charmaraman published research in 2021 showing the same sleep issues among social media users ages 11 to 15, as well. 10
  • Algorithms make sure that whatever your views are, you are fed feeds that mirror back those views. We become myopic.  We tend to be living in a house of mirrors or put another way, an echo-chamber.  We’re becoming a much more divided nation with people more and more convinced their way is the only way. This unavoidably affects our political, religious, and social discourse.11 
  • A systematic search of articles from database inception up to 25 January 2019 across five databases, Medline, PsycINFO, EMBASE, HMIC and CINAHL, revealed nine independent studies investigating social media/internet use and suicide attempts in young people less than 19 years old. An independent direct association was found between heavy social media/internet use and increased suicide attempts in seven studies. Two studies found that some social media/internet use, versus no use, may be associated with fewer suicide attempts.12

Personally, I worry a lot about social media’s effects on teenagers.  Every teenager makes mistakes!  It’s part of growing up.  When my generation made mistakes, we were able to quietly right the wrongs and move forward.  Now mistakes are broadcast all over the internet. Shame becomes a debilitating roadblock to progress.

It’s also distressing to see how anonymity has caused comments to be mean-spirited, cruel, or hurtful.  Things are written and sent that would never be spoken if the speaker’s identity were known.  It is making for a angry atmosphere of discourse.

I could go on and on because there are seemingly a zillion articles about studies concerning social media use and well-being.  It can be depressing.  But remember—knowledge is empowering!  Having knowledge can inform our actions, so that rather than swimming with the crocs, we can take positive action.

Another month I’ll talk about signs to watch for that may indicate you need to take corrective action, as well as list steps to help regulate your swimming on the net, so that you take advantage of the net’s positive offerings, rather than exposing yourself to some hungry crocodiles!  It’s basically about learning to act rather than to be acted upon.  Sound familiar?

Nephi taught: Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall.  And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon; (2 Nephi 2:26)

Let’s act by choosing the positive!  None of us want to swim with crocodiles!

References:

1 Social Media and Youth Mental Health,” The US Surgeon General’s Advisory, May 2023.

Lyall LM, Wyse CA, Graham N, et al. Association of disrupted circadian rhythmicity with mood disorders, subjective wellbeing, and cognitive function: A cross-sectional study of 91 105 participants from the UK BiobankLancet Psychiatry.  2018;5(6):507-514. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30139-1

3 Hunt MG, Marx R, Lipson C, Young J. No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depressionJ Soc Clin Psychol.  2018;37(10):751-768. doi:10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751

4 Tandoc EC, Ferrucci P, Duffy M. Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing? Comput Hum Behav. 2015;43:139-146. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.10.053

5 Limbana T, Khan F, Eskander N, Emamy M, Jahan N. The association of bullying and suicidality: Does it affect the pediatric population? Cureus. 2020;12(8). doi:10.7759/cureus.9691

6 Lin LY, Sidani JE, Shensa A, et al. Association between social media use and depression among U.S. young adultsDepress Anxiety. 2016;33(4):323-31. doi:10.1002/da.22466.

7 Shalini Misra, “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices, Aug, 2014 issue of Journal of Environment and Behavior.

8 Dr. W. Keith Campbell & Dr. Jean M. Twenge, Psychology Today, article in APS Observer

8 Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Sep; 17(17): 6128.

9ublished online 2020 Aug 23. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17176128

10 https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/how-does-social-media-affect-sleep.

11 NIH, PMC, PubMed Central, The Echo Chamber Effect on Social Media, Matteo Cinell, Gianmarco De Francisci Morales, Alessandro Galeazzi, walter Quattrociocchi, Michele Starnini

12  NIH, National Library of Medicine, PMC PubMed Central, online: ncbi.nim.nih.gov.