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Most kids over the age of 12 have a cell phone and 97% of teens ages 13-17 utilize a social media platform. Unlike other generations, Gen Z doesn’t have any conception of a world without social media and parents may find this world increasingly difficult to manage. How can they protect their children without over-controlling them? Are these platforms having a positive or negative impact on their teens? Here’s what we know.
Social Media Benefits
Social media allows teenagers to create online identities. Because children go through an enormous amount of physical and emotional changes from 12-18, many teens are looking for some type of support system. A benefit of social media includes the availability of an anonymous support system, especially pertaining to those who struggle with psychological distress or some sort of disability.
Social media also provides teenagers a place to express themselves who may otherwise feel afraid to do so in real life. It can also help kids stay up to date with current events and teach them about a variety of important subjects. It’s a great way to exchange information that may benefit them in school-such as homework help or questions about a teacher/class. Humorous memes and other online humor offer a way for both adults and teens to escape the stresses that come with everyday life.
Social Media Harms
There are also plenty of documented downsides to social media-especially for teens. Social media platforms can distract kids from interacting with others in real-life, negatively impact sleep, induce stress, and expose them to inappropriate information. There is also ample evidence that social media is addictive for both teenagers and adults.
The most damaging effect of social media is how it exposes kids to bullying and results in unrealistic expectations of life and their own value. Many teenagers take personal offense to cruel comments on posts or being bullied online. This has caused extreme psychological harm; even resulting in deaths by suicide. A study showed that teens ages 12-15 who spent more than 3 hours per day on social media were at more risk for mental health problems in general.
Kids tend to compare themselves to others on social media. They think that the way people present themselves is in fact, how they are in real life. This can induce low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Unlike adults, many kids are unable to recognize that much of the information presented online is inaccurate and misleading. They are unaware that many of their peers create false identities online and present themselves in a way that simply masks their own insecurities.
Online Predators and Social Media
Another serious concern for parents is the risk of online predatory behavior geared towards their teenage children. Many predators utilize social media platforms and private messaging systems to groom and manipulate naive children. In particular, some females have been approached by much older men who shower them with compliments and manipulate them into an online, “secret” relationship.
Because it is so easy to communicate on a social media platform without others knowing, many predators try to encourage teens to send inappropriate pictures or encourage them to meet the predator in an undisclosed location. This had led to kidnappings, rape, assault, and illegal relationships. It is very important to monitor your kids’ social media activity and teach them the warning signs of an online predator. Please contact authorities if you have any suspicions that an adult is inappropriately communicating with your child.
Protecting Your Teen
It’s can be difficult to completely prevent kids from utilizing social media. But there are steps you can take to minimize it and protect those who are:
· Set Boundaries
Only let teens have access to a certain number of platforms. Monitor their usage and check their posts frequently. Only let them use social media for a short time every day. Some parents don’t let their kids take their phones to school, which may be an optimal solution for your family.
· Explain What’s Inappropriate
Explain that any sort of online bullying or rude behavior is unacceptable. Discourage your child from gossiping or trying to damage someone’s reputation. Remind them how they would feel if someone did that to them.
· Encourage Real-Life Interactions
Encourage your teen to interact with their friends in real-life. This is especially important for those who suffer from a social anxiety disorder. If your child is spending too much time on social media, cut them off, and explain that they can only see friends if they go see them in person.
· Have an Open Conversation
Teach your kids about the dangers of social media without trying to sound preachy. Let them know that there are many other ways to communicate with friends and find out about new experiences. If your child is utilizing social media as a coping mechanism for anxiety and depression, talk to them, and encourage them to see a therapist.
· Investigate Suspicious Behavior
If your teen starts acting secretive with their phone or has mentioned to a friend that they have an online relationship, you need to investigate. Do not take their word that there isn’t any nefarious activity occurring. As an adult, you have a responsibility to protect your child.
Is your child negatively impacted by social media? Are they being bullied, or have they struggled with anxiety and depression? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.