Twitter. Snapchat. Facebook. Instagram. Tumblr. WeChat. WhatsApp. Any of these sound familiar? They may if you own a smart phone, or perhaps even more so familiar if your teen owns a smartphone. These apps are some of the most widely used right now within the teenage population. According to the Business of Apps website, there were 197 BILLION apps downloaded in 2017. (App Download, 2017) The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 94% of all teenagers are using these social media apps/sites on a daily basis. (Teen’s Social, 2016) Is your teen one of the 94%? More than likely yes. And if not, I would say that the day is coming soon, and that day should not be feared, but approached with care and communication. As the Youth Director here at New Hope I interact with our youth on a daily basis, thanks to social media. It has been such a great resource and tool when interacting with our students, but are there limits? Yes! Of course! What I would love to share with you all are some great resources and insight into the world of teenagers and social media and how parents can engage in a positive way with their teenager in this huge social phenomenon.
Almost every teenager is a member of one or more social media platforms listed above. Whether it is Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, SnapChat or any other platform, social media tends to form an integral part of their lives. Social media has its advantages and disadvantages in the way it affects the lives of teenagers; both in terms of social development but even their cognitive and emotional health. How parents engage with their students in regards to the “social media world” in terms of age, boundaries and guidelines, can really make a huge difference in the life of their teenager. So let us take a look at some of these effects, starting with the positives and how parents can engage well.
1. Youth become more informed about current affairs.
With social media, teens can easily find out about what is going on in their neighborhood, school, state, country and even the entire world! It is an important way to equip themselves with adequate knowledge of current affairs. This information can be quite useful and enables them to make informed decisions based on what they know. As a parent, this can be a great opportunity to follow up with your own student; ask them what current events are making an impact on them or challenging them, perhaps confusing their worldview or causing them to question deeper issues. Share what current events were going on when you were their age. They may be able to relate with current issues happening now!
2. It is easier to study and carry out research work.
Social media platforms can act as a great study tool for students. They can use them to ask each other difficult questions that they could not solve on their own. It also makes it easier for group discussions and study groups even when they are far from each other. Students can also post research work on social media platforms to educate other students on a particular topic. I actually used an app in college called Study Blue where students can create flashcards for different classes to use as a study tool and then post to the archives. So when multiple students are studying for the same class or test, they can actually search the class and find flashcards that have already been made and add them to your own or share with others! As parents, you are able to interact with you teen while they are actually engaging in a small group activity through social media, asking your own questions or making yourself available for opinion or help.
3. Social networking is an extension of teens’ real-world friendships.
It helps them enrich and manage their social lives. Students can meet at camp one summer and have an awesome relationship built up, and then live across the country from one another, and still be able to interact! Yes, of course letter- writing was sufficient at one time and can still be used. But to have access in real time to major life experiences with twitter, facebook live or even facetime can have huge benefits in sharing life with others! Many of us have missionary friends who are on the other side of the world and we are able to see their faces, hear their voices and interact- how cool is that?! So when your student comes home raving on and one about a new friend from camp, or a foreign exchange student they met at school but is going back home soon, you as the parent can meet that student via social media or facetime when your student communicates with them, allowing you to touch base with their friends and know who they are spending time with.
4. Teens with unusual interests or hobbies find kindred spirits online.
This can give them a place to share information and enthusiasm. Sometimes schools are busting with activities, clubs or interest groups and teenagers can find their “fit”, but other times that is just simply not the case. Through different apps or websites students can find their niche and engage with others who share these common interests. As a parent, I so long for my daughter to find “her people” and be surrounded by like-minded friends. You as a parent can ask about these websites or groups of people who are connected via hobby or interest and watch as your student builds relationships and experiences in a way that may not have been as easy or accessible.
As listed above, there are so many positive ways students engage with the world of social media and there are some really great, relationally productive ways for parents to engage in these networking sites along with their teen. However, with the positives are also the negatives. This list, just like the one above, is not all inclusive. But I encourage you to engage with these negative effects of social media and be led to respond out of a place of education and reflection, not fear or reactive responses. So let’s bravely dive in to these negative affects of social media.
1. Teens are exposed to cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is one of the more negative influences that presents itself in social media, especially for teenagers. It gives a platform for cyberbullies to taunt and bully others. It is easier to bully others through social media than to do it physically. Due to the huge level of networking offered by social media, cyberbullying moves from bad to worse in a matter of days causing long lasting pain.
2. Teen struggle with Mental Health with connection to social media is on the rise.
Many experts have described a rise in sleeplessness, loneliness, worry, and dependence among teenagers — a rise that coincides with the release of the first iPhone 10 years ago. One study found that 48% of teens who spend five hours per day on an electronic device have at least one suicide risk factor, compared to 33% of teens who spend two hours a day on an electronic device. (Social Media and Teen Anxiety, 2018) Through “likes and follows” , teens are "getting actual data on how much people like them and their appearance," says Lindsey Giller, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute who specializes in youth and young adults with mood disorders. "And you're not having any break from that technology." She's seen teens with anxiety, poor self-esteem, insecurity, and sadness attributed, at least in part, to constant social media use. (Social Media Disconnect, 2017) When asking our own New Hoper Meg Tuttle, who is a licensed therapist at Katie’s Way here in Manhattan, if she saw more pros or cons of the effects of social media on emotional health, she enthusiastically responded, “CONS”. Meg said, “There are numerous studies out now linking increased anxiety and depression directly to social media.” Meg’s specializes in adolescent therapy and spends her day with the youths of Manhattan. These statistics and educated opinions from licensed mental health care professionals definitely makes me think twice about the amount of social media our youth should be exposed to, let alone the content.
3. Decrease in productivity levels
Social media is very engaging and leads to teenagers spending a lot of time on them. They may neglect their school work, extra-curricular activities and even their friends and family so that they can play a game or chat about various things not related to schoolwork. To say it plainly… it can be a huge distraction. This clearly reduces their productivity levels. Some kids even start failing in school work and may end up being addicted to the social media platforms. Very similar to muscle memory, we see people instinctively hop on their phones first thing in the morning, or at the end of the school or work day and run through all the apps. Eventually looking at the clock and one hour, two or even three hours have flown by and not a single productive or even beneficial thing has been accomplished, let alone any meaningful conversations.
4. Destroys social skills
I have experienced this destruction first hand in my own life, as I was in college with the biggest wave of app development and activation. Even before apps came the wave of texting, making communication quicker and easier, but at what cost? Due to the increase in the time spent interacting in the virtual world of social media, we have seen affects to the face to face communication and social skills of teenagers. You can find very outspoken kids on social media being quite reserved when it comes to face to face interactions, so much so it’s hard to believe that it’s the same kid speaking out! There are some instances when texting can be helpful, or being able to make a meaningful and intentional post via instagram or Twitter can be of great benefit. But what about the follow up? What about those moments when we can look people in the eyes, see their body language, respond to their facial expressions or even hear the tone of someone’s voice. Those are important! What studies have shown is perhaps the opposite of what teens would guess; that the more social media exposure and time spent in this cyber world actually leads to more social isolation and decreased mental health, not an increase. According to Psychology Today, “A group of researchers in South Korea surveyed 300 young adults aged 19-39 to better understand the relationship between social media use for seeking connectedness versus avoiding social isolation. Participants reported their use of social media, face-to-face communication, perceived social isolation, social connectedness, and subjective well-being. The researchers found that face-to-face communication increased subjective well-being by both increasing connectedness and decreasing social isolation. Social media use, on the other hand, only increased subjective well-being through increasing connectedness, but not through decreasing social isolation. Because social media does not resolve our feelings of social isolation, the negative health effects of social isolation can insidiously creep into our lives if we aren’t able to find more effective ways of decreasing our feelings of social isolation.” (Social Media Disconnect, 2017) When I imagine this generation of young people 10-15 years down the line, what will the overarching social health of our country look like?
5. Leads to disclosing of too much information
Social media has a way of making teens disclose a lot of information that they would not disclose face to face. Boldness behind a screen. By giving out too much information, for example about where one lives, where they go to school and other personal details, the teen could inadvertently make it easier for those who want to do them harm. We see this perhaps more with the younger tweens and teens, but is still to be acknowledged within the older teen years. Where younger tweens are sharing more about their physical being (age, sex, address, school, etc) older teens tend to share more openly about their personal lives, feelings, experiences, which in turn makes them more susceptible to manipulation, cyberbullying, social isolation and a potential false sense of vulnerability.
As you process through these pros and cons as parents, I want to encourage you to engage with your teenager about your concerns, ask them what their experiences have been. Know your teenager and what their own temperament or mental health status is. Don’t make assumptions that your student may not be affected at all, or the assumption that all of their emotional stress is caused by social media. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! But be educated and do some research of your own!
Below I have listed a few steps that can helpful as you engage with your teen and social media. Or perhaps you have an older elementary aged student who is asking for a smart phone and you’re beginning to wonder if they’re ready? Take a look at some of these steps below and allow them to help you engage well with the social media phenomenon.
1. Set (and enforce) reasonable rules and restrictions on your teen’s use of online technology.
For example, don’t allow your teen to use their laptop computer in their bedroom with the door closed, out of your sight and supervision. Just knowing you might walk by at any time may motivate them to be more mindful of the house rules. Or perhaps limit smartphone useage to 10pm at night, at which point the phone goes in the parent’s room. Ultimately, parents need to know their teens, what they struggle with and what kind of accountability will be the most beneficial and allow social media to be a positive way of connection and growth, not destructive. I would encourage flexibility in this area as well. If you find some restrictions aren’t needed and your teenager is handling their device in a mature way, reevaluate and discuss with your teenager. On the flip side, if your teenager proves to not be able to handle the responsibility and maturity that a smartphone or access to social media has, make adjustments and discuss why these rules and restrictions exist.
2. Connect with your kid on different social media apps/sites.
I think especially if your student is just starting to enter into the online social communication world, consider having this as one of the rules or boundaries that a student has to be okay with, could be a good jumping off place to start. Now, that doesn’t mean a parent should be stalking every conversation their teenager has, but it’s a way to still have that door open to their teen’s world and bring an extra layer of accountability. If they are not crazy about this idea, point out that it could be a fun way to share photos, posts, and memories with cousins, grandparents, and other relatives!
3. Be proactive. Educate your teen about the risks of social networking and how to avoid them.
From knowing what to do if they’re bullied online, or using privacy settings for their online profile, teach your teen to protect themselves online. Give them good examples of questions or inquires that are inappropriate or not safe. Keep the conversation open and ongoing. Ask them about different people or interests that they are following and while showing them general interest in your teen’s world, you are also able to get a pulse on how well they may be filtering or engaging in a smart way.
4. Coach your teen to use caution and common sense before posting online.
Remind them to think twice before posting comments, photos, or videos – all of which add to (or detract from) their reputation. Especially if your student really wants to make an impact for their faith or a strong conviction, what they post will either bolster that cause or derail it. It’s so easy to forget that once something is out in the digital world, it really can go anywhere. We all have our favorite viral youtube videos… make sure your students remember that.
5. Balance their online social life with face-to-face interaction.
Encourage your teen to spend “face time” with friends, and keep family relationships strong by spending quality time together – and by simply making yourself available to listen and talk. Don’t allow them to play with their smart phone at the dinner table; instead, draw them into the conversation and do your best to keep them engaged.
If we want teens and tweens to adopt better habits and healthier choices online and in-real life, we have to change how we talk about the social world, both online and in-real-life. In the end, promoting social media wellness is all about developing awareness and encouraging open communication, because teens who perceive their parents as unaware or uneducated in the realm of social media, are less likely to seek their parents’ guidance and support in times of need — and that’s not a secret we want them to keep.
Do not be afraid of social media. It is a communication tool, just like any other communication tool. But be aware and continue to educate yourself on what is current and relevant in the teenage world, in order to better interact and care for your teenager when it comes to social media or online engagement. Every family is different, every teenager is different. Find what works for your family and have fun!
Works Cited and Resources
- Health, O. O. (2016, May 13). February 2016: Teens' Social Media Use. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/news/e-updates/february-2016-teens-social-media-use/index.html
- App Download and Usage Statistics 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2018, from http://www.businessofapps.com/data/app-statistics/
- The Pros and Cons of Teens on Social Media. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2018, from http://www.phonesheriff.com/blog/the-pros-and-cons-of-teens-on-social-media/
- Social Media and Teen Anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/12/social-media-and-teen-anxiety
- Technology and Teenagers. (2013, June 14). Retrieved March 13, 2018, from http://triumphyouthservices.com/technology-and-teenagers/
- D. (n.d.). The Social Media Disconnect. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/home-base/201802/the-social-media-disconnect
- The Pros and Cons of Social Networking for Teenagers: A Parent's Guide. (2011, June 22). Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://www.education.com/reference/article/pros-cons-social-networking-...