The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that kids these days spend at least two hours per day online and as many as “60% of 13-17-year-olds have at least one profile on a social networking site.” While social media can be a useful tool in many ways, there’s no denying it comes with some concerning side effects – specifically for young people.
Here are the top 3 proven dangers of social media for youth.
Unfortunately we’ve probably all heard of “cyberbullying,” a term for bullying that occurs online. But what you may not realize is the extent to which it occurs and the threat it poses to kids today. The fact that a whopping 71% percent of children have real concerns about online bullying shows just how pervasive it is.
Furthermore, several studies have shown that more than a third of young people said they’ve actually personally experienced online bullying. Given this data, it’s of the utmost importance that you encourage your child to tell you when they feel threatened by bullying online.
Be proactive in asking them what they do when they are surfing the net but at the same time, try not to be intrusive. It’s important when dealing with both kids and teens that you be sensitive to their privacy. It’s also a good idea to have a discussion where you set guidelines for which sites they can visit and what information they share on the Internet.
Knowing which social media platforms have the highest rates of cyberbullying occurrences can be helpful. For example, enough.org ranks sites according to reported incidences of bullying. At 42%, Instagram appears to be a haven for cyberbullying. Facebook is next at 37%, with Snapchat at 31%. Despite being the most widely-frequented social media platform with youths, YouTube accounts for only 10% of all complaints.
One way you can take action is by doing your own research on any anonymous accounts or phone numbers that you find out are harassing your child. Search unknown phone numbers they’re receiving texts from or lookup online profiles – these tools may be able to help you identify the source of the harassment.
The bottom line here is that’s important to be aware of and involved in your child’s virtual world as much as you are in their physical one.
Of course, cyberbullying is just one of the risks that social media poses for our children.
Research by the Children’s Society of the UK uncovered an interesting problem. Based on their findings, 46% of young people feel “inadequate” if they don’t receive enough likes on their posts. Another issue that fuels feelings of inadequacy among youths is their misperception of someone else’s highly curated social-media life.
The Child Mind Institute tells the story of Sasha, a 16-year old high school student. After reading her friends’ posts, Sasha believes that they are always “having the best day ever, all the time.” In what Donna Wick, EdD, founder of Mind-to-Mind Parenting calls the “perfect storm of self-doubt,” Sasha’s belief that everyone but her has their act together.
The results of a recent YouGov survey revealed that 18% or one-fifth of young people between the ages of 16 and 25 do not believe that life is worth living. Even more telling is the fact that half the young people who use social media feel “anxious about their future.” The reason? Like Sasha, it’s largely because they can’t help but compare their own lives to those of their peers that they see on social media.
Despite her belief that she’s the only one who doesn’t have it together, Sasha isn’t alone. Feelings of inadequacy haunt 57% of her peers who feel an “overwhelming pressure to succeed” because of how they perceive others based on their online lives.
To help parents address this problem, Dr. Wick provides several easy-to-follow pointers.
If you want to inject a healthy dose of reality into children’s social media experience, start by telling them to trust people – not pictures. Not everyone who posts a smiling face is happy. That goes for your child as well. Teach them to look beyond the surface to see what is “really” going on in someone’s life. They may be surprised to find that all that glitters is not gold.
Dr. Wick also suggests that parents should model a healthy response to failure. A healthy response, in this case, is not only to tell them that it is okay to fail but “showing it is okay” to fail. After all, how can you appreciate the joy of victory if you’ve never experienced defeat.
Finally, take a break from social media now and then. And this advice isn’t for your children alone. Take time to get out in the real world as a family. Whether you go for a walk or bike ride in the park, taking time away from the keypad and screen can help give you a fresh perspective on what’s important in life.
The Habit of Comparing
Even before the age of social media, the practice of comparing oneself to those around us was never a healthy endeavor. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult habit to break. In a Psychology Today article, Deborah Carr Ph.D. wrote that, “our desire to compare ourselves to others is a drive—one almost as powerful as thirst or hunger.” If this is indeed the case, social media is likely to feed (rather than extinguish) your innate tendency to compare.
Long before the emergence of social media, comparisons were more limited to those we saw on TV, in magazines and via similar mediums. The difference between now and then is that back then there was an understanding that what we were seeing was “made-up, retouched, and photoshopped.” In short, we knew it wasn’t real.
In this age of social media, we’re comparing ourselves less to supermodels or celebrities on the cover of magazines and more to the friends and acquaintances we have in our own lives. The problem according to Dr. Wick is that our “friends” social media posts are usually a highlight reel of the good things that are happening in their life. It’s rare for anyone to share the “efforts, struggles, and the merely ordinary aspects of day-to-day” living. And it’s the absence of the latter that not only creates an unbalanced view of reality but is also the cause of significant “distress for many kids.” Especially when they’re at an impressionable age in which they’re trying to figure out who they are and establishing an identity.
In this regard, parents would be wise to remind both their children and themselves that what they see on social media doesn’t give the full picture of a person’s life or happiness.
Do As I Say (and Do)
A Pew Research Center report indicates that 94% of parents of 13-to-17 year-olds own either a desktop or laptop computer, 76% own a smartphone, and 72% use Facebook. Furthermore, 84% of parents regularly go online with either a computer, tablet or mobile device. It’s likely that parents spend far more time on social media in the presence of their children than they realize.
The Pew report highlights the fact that children and teens tend to mimic their parents’ behavior when it comes to both connected-device usage and social media. This means that teaching your children safe online practices starts with being aware of and changing (if necessary) your own internet habits.