Teens and Social Media

It’s December 31st and around the world, people are celebrating or getting ready to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. Holiday gifts have been exchanged and if there were electronics or technical gifts given, you as parents may be concerned what your kids are doing online and what kind of content they are accessing on social media. As we look to the year ahead, it’s my goal to help you understand more regarding what your tweens and teens are doing online and on their smart devices.

And the first thing that I want to address is this: it’s not the device or the medium at fault. It’s the humans.

Ever since we have had the ability to communicate, people have abused the system. Whether that abuse came from quill and ink, the typewriter, the fax machine, email, or social media – if people wanted or want to say mean things they’re going to do it. It doesn’t matter HOW it was written – just that it was written.

Why is there a bee in my bonnet over this today? I came across yet another article today blaming social media for all the trauma in our kids’ lives. I’m tired of people (read: adults from Gen X and older) immediately pointing the blame at social media and smart devices instead of the real culprits – the people holding those devices and using the apps/sites.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate the article and a lot of the points the author had were very valid and on point. But there were certain pieces of this article (some not even related to social media) that created an almost visceral reaction in me. I want to point those out and explain why.

Hate the Player, Not the Game

“There’s no doubt that social media can sometimes be a giant, stinking cesspool, with its blatant name-calling, bullying, nastiness, and attacks. But there are plenty of other negative effects.”

There’s truth in that statement, however, hasn’t this always been an issue in the teen years? Can it spread faster and wider thanks to social media and technology? Sure but think back to when you were in school – this is not a new trend. Kids are mean little punks when they want to be.

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“Probably the most dangerous is its effect on families. The lives of many children and teens now revolve around cell phones and social media. Where a child used to be part of a family and occasionally see his or her friends, we now have a society where children are part of their peer group and have occasional contact with their family.”

I’m not sure how far back the author goes but for me, as soon as I hit middle school, my friends became the top-feeders in my social life. I’m not saying that I didn’t love my family or spend time with them, but it’s a natural progression for your friends to take on a larger role – it’s part of growing up. To me, this has nothing to do with social media or cell phones. Swap out cell phones for corded phones (remember stretching that cord as far as you possibly could to get privacy?!) and you’ve got the 21st-century version of every generation who’s lived since the invention of the phone.

“Social media can also affect the emotional health of young people. Many studies show that teens who use social media a lot tend to be more depressed. And it’s no wonder since they feed on a constant diet of comparison to others”

For the most part, I’ll agree with this sentence. The only thing that I want to point out is that comparing oneself to others has been around since the beginning of time. With rare exception, we all do this in some form or another. Shoot, I did the other day as a friend made me dinner with his new sous vide kitchen toy!

The author then goes on to point out that:

“Unrealistic expectations and comparisons can affect anyone who uses social media. This could be why we seem to be so unhappy, despite having more money, possession, and opportunities than ever before in history. We constantly see other people bragging about what they did, where they went on vacation or the new stuff they just bought, and we feel deprived of what “everyone else” has.”

Again, nothing new with this behavior just a different way in which it’s relayed to others. Who doesn’t get annoyed with yet another seemingly perfect life served up in your Facebook news feed? The one thing I as well as many others have learned is that the more someone brags about something, the less likely true it is.

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“As a country, we’ve always had differences of opinion, but social media is contributing to a polarization to the point where compromise is not even considered an option.”

On this point, I give the author a hearty AMEN, brother.

What it All Boils Down To…

If you’ve ever taken one of my social parent workshops, you know that the one thing that I repeat over and over again is “communication and education”. With all the world at your kid’s fingertips, you absolutely must be communicating with them as well as being constantly aware of what they’re doing, who they’re with, and what sites they’re using. There must be an open and constant dialogue between you and your kids. This is not the time to back down on that. As parents we must roleplay with them on how to handle cyberbullying, what’s appropriate and what’s not when it comes to using social media – the list is endless and exhausting.

Closing out on this bit of a rant, here’s the message that I want to convey. Are there a lot of opportunities for bad things to happen using smart devices and social sites? Yes. But if you are involved and aware of as much as possible in what’s going on in your kid’s world, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If you focus on teaching them to be good human beings, the difference between right and wrong, and arming them with the proper tools and ways to handle negative situations, everything will be okay.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to be rolling out a series of virtual workshops to give you the help you need to be a more social savvy parent. Make sure you sign up for my email list so you’ll know when they launch and of course, as long-time loyal readers, you’ll get a discount on an already affordable rate!

Happy New Year everyone. Here’s to a fantastic 2018!