Most of us are guilty of the trappings of social media: a quick morning check of Facebook, a scroll through Instagram during breakfast and a cute photo upload whilst at the park. Statistics show that users, generally, clock up three hours a day on social media platforms. It is dominating our lives and at a costly effect. Experts have claimed that there is currently a mental health crisis and that social media is partly to blame. And if adults are at risk, what about our adolescents?
Every parent of a teenager can tell you that they go through a significant developmental stage during adolescence. Their brains are changing and they are starting to see the world through very different eyes. Social acceptance becomes more important, friendships take on a higher prevalence and romantic relationships can begin to develop. Whereas, once upon a time these changes were happening subtly behind closed doors, now they are taking place on a public platform.
So, what is the problem?
Social media has created a phenomenon that some are calling ‘social displacement’. In the days before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, relationships were often built and maintained through face-to-face exchanges. As a human race we have evolved to understand how someone is feeling through the recognition of facial expressions and mannerisms. Now that teenagers are spending more and more time online, these exchanges have been stripped away. Communicating via text can rob children of emotions such as compassion and can even make some individuals crueller. Trolling, where people leave offensive remarks to provoke, has had a lot of news coverage recently. It can be very upsetting for a victim, especially a teenager who is still building an identity.
Whereas our generation had an option to switch off from adolescent problems outside the home, teenagers are contactable 24 hours a day. According to the Pew Research Centre, 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone and as many as 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly’. Some children that are being picked on at school may find themselves the target of cyberbullying, meaning that they are not even safe in the comfort of their own home. Social media is often used as a tool for projecting perfection. Children who are conscious of their looks can scroll through Instagram and be met with image upon image of an idea of ‘beauty’. Pictures that have been photoshopped within an inch of their life, can be an unrealistic portrayal of what a teen may aspire to be, causing them to lose confidence in themselves.
Another risk is, that if children are not careful, they can share too much online. Photos or videos taken and posted to sites such as Snapchat, Twitter or YouTube can end up in the hands of the wrong sort of person. Explicit photos that are taken and sent, can be savagely shared publicly online. This is psychologically damaging for a young adult.
The list of the risks could go on and on. However, try taking a phone away from a teenager, then you will probably have a whole other host of problems on your hands! You can minimise risks by keeping communication lines open and trying the following:
- Talk about internet safety and the risks involved in social media.
- Talk to your child about being kind online.
- Add them as a friend online. Not a favourable option for some, but for younger teens it can be one of the conditions they have to abide by if they want to join social media sites.
- Practice what you preach. Put down your phone and try to have social media free times, in the day.
- Encourage hobbies outside of social media. A commitment to a new hobby can generate an interest and build upon confidence.
- Try and keep computers and tablets in communal areas.
Parenting a teenager is tough. They are going through the biggest change in brain development since the days of toddler tantrums. It can feel so hard to reach them sometimes and social media is a tool that can put extra distance between you and your child. It isn’t easy but, arming them with the right information and keeping a close eye on activity are really the best approaches that you can take.