Social media usage amongst young people has increased dramatically in recent years. Teens have mixed views on social media’s effects on people their age. Some say it helps them connect with people while others express concerns about cyberbullying.
70 percent of today’s teens check their social accounts several times per day, This is more than double the figure from teenagers in 2012. Even more startling is the fact that 27 percent of them check their social media feeds on an hourly basis.
The boom can be largely attributed to two main factors. First, the recent increase in access to internet-enabled devices (95 percent of teens in 2018 had access to a smartphone). Second, the ever-increasing ubiquity of digital culture amongst the youth of America.
Do the benefits of social media outweigh the negative effects that it can have on teens’ mental health?
Social Media’s Negative Impact on Youth
In today’s society, social media and teen life go hand-in-hand. Young people who don’t have at least one active social media profile are few and far between.
Despite being a virtual necessity to fit in with one’s peers in 2019, social media has some concerning negative side effects.
According to a new Pew Research Center survey, 59% of American teens have personally experienced abusive online behaviors.
The most common form of digital harassment is name-calling. The fact that social media interactions don’t occur face-to-face emboldens many young people. It makes them feel that they can direct hurtful things to a peer that they would never dream of saying in person.
The second most prevalent type of online bullying is the spreading of false rumors. People sometimes invent gossip online about others because it gives them a sense of superiority and makes them feel powerful.
Rumors are often started by anonymous online accounts. If your child has been the target of social media rumors, you can look up the offending account to see if you can learn anything about who might be responsible.
Harms Relationships, Causes Depression
For all the good that it does in connecting people, social media can also damage a young person’s relationships and mental health.
In teen culture, social standing is increasingly based on the number of Instagram followers one has, the number of retweets they get or the likes their photos receive.
Research from New Statesman shows that 42 percent of teens surveyed would delete a post that had a small number of likes for fear of embarrassment. 55 percent admitted to having feelings of jealousy when someone else’s post received more likes than theirs.
With a constant battle for popularity occurring online, teens are always thinking about what to post next in order to get the most likes.
This leads them to do things purely for the photo opportunity and takes away from their ability to just enjoy being young and having new experiences. It also results in unrealistic representations of themselves that they upload to their profiles, giving their peers unrealistic expectations about what a happy, healthy life should look like.
The widespread popularity of social media in youth culture means it can easily become an addiction.
Teens constantly refresh their feeds in hope that they’ve gotten new likes or comments. Or that someone they know has posted something new.
It’s a tough challenge to overcome for procrastinators, specifically. They often spend hours scrolling through their various social feeds instead of doing homework.
Finding the Good for Teens in Social Media
Contrary to popular belief, there are a few positives that come out of teen social media usage.
Social media allows teens to stay in touch with both family and friends.
It helps them stay up-to-date with family members who live in different cities or states. These days kids avoid telephone conversations like the plague. Social media allows them to follow along with the lives of their relatives and engage with them by commenting on new pictures, status updates, and any significant life events. Social platforms keep families connected in ways telephones never could.
It also allows them to stay in touch with friends who move away. Rather than having to call, email or send letters to maintain that connection, teens are able to check in with those long-distance friends much more easily using the various social media platforms.
This era of “fake news” and social echo chambers, might make this particular point seem a bit counterintuitive. The reality is that teens on social media often share news articles that are relevant to them, starting discussion amongst their immediate peers and other teens their age.
Social media is valuable for getting kids to start thinking critically about news and to be interested in what’s going on in the world. Prior to social media, most teens would come across news articles only when one is brought to their attention by a parent at home or a teacher in the classroom.
One of the most popular activities on social media is finding and sharing content that you find interesting and discussing it with your friends. Social media allows teens to do this. It also exposes them to topics and a diversity of opinion they probably wouldn’t come across without it.
Meeting Others with Similar Interests
Teens can find groups on various social media platforms dedicated solely to a unique topic they enjoy.
It could be a specific K-Pop (Korean pop) band, miniature Australian Shepherds or cryptocurrency – whatever they’re interested in, it’s a safe bet there’s a social media group dedicated to it. These groups allow teens to meet with like-minded individuals and have discussions about them. In the real world they might be lucky to find one other person who shares their same level of interest in this unique areas.
Social media allows them to talk about their passion and explore their knowledge of the subject with others in ways they never could in real life.
Negating Social Media’s Bad Influence on Youth
While there are clearly both pros and cons to teen social media usage, how it affects your child depends on the role you play as a parent. You can help ensure that the good outweighs the bad.
When it comes to ensuring your children are using social media in the most positive way possible, vigilance and communication is the key.
To ensure that your children derive good benefits from their social media experience while protecting them from the negative aspects of the virtual realm; here are a few pointers:
- Set clear rules regarding the use of social media and the overall time spent online. If they break a rule, make sure that punishment comes with it. Grounding from the Internet for a set time could be a perfect punishment. Have them treat being online as a privilege and not a right.
- Know your children’s passwords and do not be afraid to check their online activities if you sense any unusual activity.
- Talk to your children about online dangers and the effect of meeting people online. Remind them to show you any messages, picture, or video that make them feel uncomfortable. Transparency and comfort in communication with you are the keys to your child’s online safety.
- Finally, don’t let your children to use online devices at night. It could cause them to form poor sleep habits. More concerning still – most online solicitations of minors occur late at night when parents are not around to monitor their activities.
Take a Walk In The Sun Instead of Hunt for “Likes”
There’s no denying that with proper supervision, social media can be a good thing for your children.
There are many studies and expert advice on why you should limit your child’s use of social media. For example, experts say that it is important for children to get 60-minutes of exercise every day to stay healthy.
The development of social skills through real-world and one-on-one interaction is both an often cited and valid reason for pushing them away from screens. But perhaps the greatest benefit is that there will be more room for quality family time.
Enjoy every moment in the world, whether it’s a walk in the park on a sunny day or going to a movie together.