Teens and children of the 21st century are growing up in a social media driven society where individuals are evaluated and compared by the number of people who follow them on social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram), the amount of “likes” they receive, and their online exposure and presence. Essentially, these young people are growing up in a time when an individual’s social value is considered quantifiable.
The Dangers of Social Media Use
Social Media Addiction and Usage
It has been established that much like other Internet activities such as online gaming and gambling, that social media use can be addictive. During the early developmental years, children and teens are especially impressionable, absorbing all the information surrounding them, both good and bad like sponges, which makes them an easy target for social media and its accompanying drama. What social media platforms do well is play on human emotions, particularly the emotions associated with the fear of missing out. No child or teen wants to feel isolated or left out from their peers, and social media platforms make sure that they feel connected and up to date with what their peers, friends and role models are doing at an almost minute by minute refresh rate. As a result, social media platforms create an illusion of being constantly present, connected with and acknowledged by others, thus making a young, impressionable person feel accepted, part of others’ lives and adequate amongst their social network. This desire to be seen and see others through their smart phones, iPads and computer screens at almost unhealthy amounts is why current researchers, health professionals, and parents have all expressed concerns regarding the potential implications and adverse effects that appear as a result of frequent and unhealthy social media use and this level of supposed “connectedness”.
Social Media and Unrealistic Comparisons
Through platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in particular, individuals today are finding it easier than ever to connect, yes, however they also are finding it easier than ever to compare and contrast their lives to others in ways that can both positively and negatively affect their mental health and psychological wellbeing. Given the success and world-wide use of social media platforms over the last decade and their popularity amongst the rich, famous and influential, it’s understandable the youth of today are gravitating towards using these social media platforms in excessive amounts in order to stay connected. However, the simple fact is, what we see on these social media platforms are not the realistic depictions of the lives we or others have but rather, unrealistic, largely filtered and photoshopped versions of reality and it is this realisation the youths of today need to understand.
Comparing ourselves to others is something that every individual engages in. Our brains are wired in such a way that it is impossible to avoid making an automatic evaluation of almost everything and everyone we as individuals are exposed to on a daily basis. Therefore, while many young individuals use current social media platforms for the purposes of connecting with others and establishing an online presence, some cannot help but see the presented lives and lifestyles of others and allow their inner automatic evaluations and comparisons to negatively impact themselves, particularly the way they perceive themselves in comparison to others. This often results in undesirable outcomes such as, social isolation issues, loneliness, poor self-esteem, or depression, issues highly prevalent amongst teenagers already.
Cyberbullying- The Dark Side of Social Media
Cyberbullying is one of the most serious and damaging aspects of social media use, impacting thousands of young people every year. Current statistics show nearly 23% of teenagers have been bullied online through some form of social media platform with 1 in 4 stating this to have happened on more than one occasion, and these numbers could very well be higher as a result of not all teens are ready to share their difficult experiences of cyberbullying with others. The current statistics are not surprising given the fact more than 80% of teens currently use smart phones regularly, making social media platforms the most common and easily accessed medium for cyber bullying. Social media platforms provide a convenient, and often anonymous, opportunity for individuals to engage in cruel, hurtful, damaging forms of cyberbullying. Far too often young teens being cyberbullied feel that suicide is their only option of escaping 1. the cyberbullying itself and 2. the way they often feel about themselves as a result of the cyberbullying. Recent research has revealed cyber bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide given the fact the bullying does not stop when the leave school, it follows them home.
Tips for Managing Social Media Use
Education: Education will be your best tool and is one of the simplest ways to ensure your child or teen is using social media safely and not abusing the privilege, by educating them. Teach and model kindness and good manners online along with the dangers associated with online use. This is not meant to scare them just educate them o f the possible risks associated with excessive social media use and its accompanying problems. Educate them on the addictive nature of social media, the seriousness of cyberbullying and the impact it has had on others in the past. Teach them of the possible impact unhealthy levels of usage can have on their mental health along with the fact that what you see online is not always real, most is unrealistic, largely filtered and photoshopped versions of reality. Education and understanding will be the best tool for them.
They are going to use social media, and that’s OK. This is the world we currently live in, and simply banning all social media platforms from your household will not do you any favours. Social media interaction and use is part of today’s child and adolescent development. It can support young individuals as they explore and discover more about themselves, make new friends, connect with existing friends and be a part of the current social world we live in. You simply need to instruct them on the appropriate use of social media, the positives and the negatives. Don’t sugar coat it, make them aware that once something is online it can never be removed. It is important to keep the lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.
Set limits and Encourage Offline Social Engagement. Social media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Setting limits on the level of social media use and exposure is essential. However, the key is to make realistic limits, for example, create tech-free zones such as family mealtimes, gatherings and in social settings etc. The use of social media should be regulated not taken away completely. Teach them to regulate their own use, the more in control they are of their usage in a safe manner the better.
Be Aware of Warning Signs. Know how to identify the warning signs of excessive social media use and addiction, cyberbullying, social isolation, depression or behavioural problems associated with social media use. The more educated both you and your child are on this area the better.
We live in a digital world where social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. It is therefore unrealistic to think we can completely shield our young and impressionable children from social media, instead we need to move towards educating them on the proper ways of using social media, the risk factors associated with its use and perhaps helping them to realise social media is not a living thing, and you can switch it off or delete an app any time you want.