Parents have always been concerned about the impact of technology on their children, and this is also the case with social media. In fact, the Family Online Safety Institute claims 43% of parents believe that the harmful effects of social media outweigh its benefits. Its link to mental health issues, in particular, has sparked a number of hot topics. Many people blame social media for the increase in depression and antisocial behavior cases among teens.
But how valid are these concerns?
As it turns out, they do have some basis. Psychology expert Dilshan de Silva points out that social media is used to distort lifestyles and body image, both of which can have a huge impact on a teenager’s self-esteem. And while interacting on social media is superficial by nature, the instant gratification that teenagers experience when people like their posts can backfire. It may eventually lead to depression when they do not receive their desired reaction from an online community.
That’s because social media use can activate the brain’s reward system through positive social stimuli. These “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops,” as they are called by former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, can become addictive. It’s a big concern because many brands have learned to monetize these feelings. And ultimately, impressionable teenagers are at risk.
The bright side
Ironically, some of the solutions to the problems caused by social media can also come from these same platforms. They can be used by teens to develop bonds with friends and immediate social circles. Sharing posts and stories can complement real-world interactions. These must be encouraged, as social connections are important in preventing depression.
On social media, teenagers also get to express their feelings, articulate their thoughts, and develop an identity. They can relate to people who share their interests or experiences, making them feel that they aren’t alone. Much like in the schoolyard or the cafeteria, social media is a space where teens can figure out their strengths and weaknesses and build a personality based on their own insights.
Where to draw the line
Education is key to avoid social media’s negative effects. As parents, it’s vital to recognize the extent of social media’s influence on society right now. It has become a cultural tour de force and a source of information. The entire media landscape has now adopted digital strategies and Maryville University indicates that social media is at the forefront of this trend. In many cases, the information people see on their smartphones is often via social media. It is futile to restrict the youth of today from using it, because a Pew Research Center survey reveals that 95% of teens in the US have access to a smartphone. Telling them to stay away from social media is pointless.
Instead, teach them to navigate the social media landscape safely and the internet in general. In a previous post on rtor.org, we suggested having a serious talk with teens. Explain things like tech addiction, cyberbullying, social media dependence and other mental health concerns attributed to these platforms. Teenagers are inquisitive, but they are also old enough to understand the effects of social media on them. The key is to let them recognize the dangers and learn how to deal with the technology as responsible individuals.
This can be an opportunity to teach them about independence and life away from the internet. It’s worth setting time limits and encourage them to foster real-life relationships. This way, they get to develop their organizational and interpersonal skills beyond social media.
With a solid support circle and an engaging offline lifestyle, teenagers will be able to avoid spending most of the day scrolling through social media. No technology is inherently detrimental. It’s only a matter of guiding kids on how to use these media responsibly.
Author Bio: Ivy White is a high school teacher who mainly tackles computer subjects and other technology topics. She occasionally takes on freelance work when not busy with her day job, and volunteers in local shelters for homeless children to help teach illiterate youth. She is also a mother of two daughters, and their favorite bonding activity is playing board games.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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