Social media has become a huge part of how people interact with each other in our society. The majority of adolescents use one or more social networking sites. Facebook is still the big one, but other sites, such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Vine are becoming increasingly popular. If you aren’t sure what some of these networks are, check out this post on ‘What is snapchat?’
Whether or not these sites are healthy social outlets is still debated. Some say that they are valuable tools for adolescents to hone their social skills. Others say just the opposite — as young people become more and more dependent upon social media as their social outlet, they are losing the ability to interact effectively in person. The debate rages on. However, social media presents other, more pressing dangers.
Strangers – The scariest thing about meeting someone online is that they may not be who they say they are. Your 13-year-old daughter may be speaking with someone who claims to be a 13-year-old girl, but who is, in reality, an adult male. This is a lot easier to fake online than it is face-to-face, so your daughter may develop trust for a person online who they would be wary of in person. It’s important that teens don’t mention things online that will allow strangers to find them. It’s a bad idea to mention the name of the city where they live or the school they attend.
Cyberbullying – Cyberbullying has been linked to teen depression, and can even result in increased vulnerability and depression into adulthood. It’s important to emphasize that your teen talk to you if they feel they’re being bullied. On the other side of the coin, they should ask themselves before they post something “could this hurt someone’s feelings?” If it’s questionable, they shouldn’t post.
Exposure to adult-themed material – Of course you don’t want your teenager exposed to adult-themed or pornographic material. The danger with social media is that your child can be sent this material by strangers or by trusted sources. You can set up your child’s social networking sites to restrict access to only known friends, or you can keep their profiles private.
Being on any device for too long, can make your teen feel distance and disconnected. Spending all day looking at photos and videos of others isn’t a good pattern that promotes a healthy lifestyle. If you are asking yourself, “Is my teen on their phone too much?” the answer is yes.
Extensive use of social media can affect your teen’s personality in the long term. When a teen uses social media profiles to validate themselves, they are basing their self-worth on likes and retweets, which is, of course, inherently dangerous. Social media also makes it easy to compare ourselves to one another. When your teen compares their lives to friends’ seemingly exciting lives (the highlights of which are featured in their friends’ profiles), your child may come to think of their life as hum-drum and depressing. Comparing ourselves to others is never healthy. Lastly, it’s easy for a teen to get so wrapped up in social media that it replaces the enjoyment of activities they used to love. Instead of enjoying a hike, the real motivation is to get some pictures for Facebook. Instead of enjoying time with friends, the concern becomes taking photos that will receive the most Likes. It dilutes the experience and replaces enjoyment with meaningless social validation.
Social media can be a good thing. It allows your teen to stay in touch with friends and, if used correctly, boost self-esteem. There are, however, inherent dangers involved with social media which you should sit down and discuss with your child. Of course, if you notice your child begin to pull away or show signs of depression, you should talk with them about it. If the situation appears to be getting out of control, seek help. There are programs out there that are designed to bring your child back onto the right path. For more information about the relationship between neuroscience and video game, social media, and internet abuse, click here.